Just Breathe

Every once in a while, my Apple Watch reminds me to breathe. It’s actually a pretty cool feature; it guides users through some deep inhaling and exhaling, aimed at gaining focus and relaxation. Sometimes, when it prompts me, I ignore it. Today, I didn’t. Today, I needed to breathe.

This evening, my wife and I walked into a restaurant we’d been to many times. It was quite crowded, and over a dozen people were waiting for tables, and as I approached the counter, attempting to get the attention of a hostess, a man and woman stood in front of the counter where I needed be.

“Are you guys in line?” I asked them politely, not having clearly seen them yet.

“No, go ahead,” the woman said.

And that’s when time stopped. Time didn’t stop in that wait-and-savor-the-moment sort of way; time stopped in that I’m-about-to-get-hit-by-a-bus sort of way. I knew exactly who she was, and she knew exactly who I was. The woman I’d just spoken to was a teacher at the high school where I’d once taught — a teacher with whom I’d had numerous inappropriate interactions in her classroom. During my time as a teacher at that school, I had multiple “encounters” with multiple teachers, and she was one of them. Then, for a brief moment (which lasted an eternity), I could not move; I could not breathe. But with some quick thinking, I made a hasty excuse to my wife and suggested we leave. She agreed, as the restaurant was extremely busy, and we left.

And when we got into the car, I still could not breathe. I explained to my wife who I’d just seen, and she completely understood. She drove me home — nearly in silence — and I sat down in my office alone; my mind continued to race. I could not understand why I was so rattled by seeing this woman; I could not understand why it even mattered; I could not understand why my heart was pounding so much from the anxiety; I could not understand why I could not understand.

And then, my Apple Watch buzzed.

 It told me it was time to breathe.

I agreed; I obliged.

I did my best to go about the remainder of my evening as usual, and all I could do was tell myself, “Just breathe.” And it was a difficult evening — a long evening — and admittedly, the remainder of the evening did not go well for me. But when it was all done, I sat quietly, and said to myself, “Just breathe.”

Sometimes, surrounded by the cacophony of remorse I’ve created for myself, it is often difficult to feel like I can ever do anything right; it becomes impossible to focus or concentrate, or sometimes even function. My wife sat patiently with me while I broke-down; and when it was over, I tried to just move forward, to just focus — to “Just breathe.”

It was a windy and turbulent day today. Winds gusted in excess of 30 mph today; the temperature seemed unseasonably warm and the wind was seasonably brisk. After that brief (but difficult) encounter with that woman, it seemed like nothing made sense, nothing I could do made sense, and I couldn’t seem to focus. And I just don’t understand why it bothered me so much. Maybe it’s because I regret it so much. It felt like, when I saw her — when she saw me, when we made eye-contact — I was seeing some sort of portal into my windy and turbulent past, and it gusted so strongly it nearly knocked me over.

Just breathe, Kurt. Just breathe.

I guess I learned an important lesson tonight: I am not as “over” my past as I thought. Regrets and remorse still linger, and I have not yet forgiven myself for the things I’ve done.

I confided in a close friend about what happened this evening, and she reiterated that I was a different person now, the past shouldn’t matter, and I should move forward with my life. And then, she said the one thing I needed to hear from someone other than myself and my Apple Watch.

“Just breathe,” she said.

Inhale — Exhale — Repeat…

Just breathe.

Practiced are my sins,
Never gonna let me win.
Under everything,
Just another human being.
Yeah, I don’t wanna hurt,
There’s so much in this world,

To make me bleed.
-Pearl Jam, “Just Breathe