How To Breathe Sweetly

Sunday sounds like my mom yelling at my brother. It sounds like women gossiping and crackles in a frying pan.

It’s my grandfather telling rhymes and tall tales of times gone by. It’s my friends playing, the porch swing squeaking, football commentators on TV. It’s the smell of fried chicken and collard greens. It’s the scent of my grandmother’s moisturizer. It’s 50¢ coins and $2 bills. It’s new crayons and construction paper, fresh-cut grass, and wind in my face.

It’s finding just the right sweetness in all the right places. It’s knowing that we haven’t got much, but we’ve got all we need. It’s loving hard, laughing loud, and remembering the best in who we are.

My clothes came from Kmart as a child. My haircuts were done at Fantastic Sam’s. Our groceries came from a mom-and-pop shop where the gossip flowed as fast as Mrs. Jenkins’s denial about her husband’s affair.

We never went hungry. I had plenty of toys. Mom had her dresses. Grandma and Grandpa played their poker. We never wanted more than just what we had.

Sundays after church were spent with family around fried chicken and collard greens, sweet tea, and lemon meringue pie. I prized this ritual even then—and now, I long for just one more story around that table, for just one more swing on the porch.

We all sigh when we hear our elders talk about treasures in their pasts. Our legs fall asleep listening to long-winded recounts of days when the world was a little bit nicer—when everything was so much easier.

We listen anyway, though, because that’s how we were brought up—and as soon as we see a way out, off we run into the seclusion of our Facebook profiles and smart phones.

Isn’t it interesting, then, to feel the way we do about our own histories? The past becomes more and more attractive the farther we get from it.

Things change fast.

I was told that I’d make something of myself one day. My family told me that there was more to have in life than what I grew up with. One day, they told me, I’d chase my imagination into a world I only could dream of.

Today, my fortunes seem bigger. I buy my clothes where I want to. I get my hair cut at extravagant salons. I always eat out. And I spend a ridiculous amount on entertainment.

Yes, the money is better than it was as a kid playing Store with my grandmother’s groceries, but it’s not quite as nice as it was wrapped up in Grandma’s arms in her rocking chair, flipping through photo albums, and asking silly questions.

Things change. My grandmother’s house is now bereft of our family. The young ones in the Sunday crowd went on to start their own families, and pursue big-shot careers. They slowly trickled away after our matriarch passed on.

We now have only these heartbreaking yet wonderful memories of how things were. We have dulled pictures that prep us for our own stories to our children one day—of days that were easier, less-pretentious.

By no means was my childhood free of tragedy. Like you, I’ve experienced horrors I am grateful to have overcome. My family was there, though—to make me laugh, to make me forget, to show me the truth about what was important. They toughened me up, and propelled me into who I’ve become.

I’m 24, and I can’t help but think about what comes next. Will I one day look to my 20s, and feel the nostalgia I do for my childhood? Will I think, “Gosh, I miss that cold, not-even-close-to-homey Uptown apartment?”

As soon as I begin to worry, I’m reminded of the very thing that made me happy as a child, that talent only the ones we love can impart to us: to find just the right sweetness in all the right places.

Will I miss me now? Will you miss you? Maybe. The great thing about it, though, is that we’re still us—we always will be—and if we take life one porch swing at a time, maybe, just maybe, our memories won’t just be treasures in our pasts, but treasures as we make them.

Let’s go off together, then, you and me. Let’s slow down for just a second, and think about where we are, instead of where we’re headed. Let’s keep our eye on the prize—our hearts on the present—and when we’re faced with times we wish would just disappear, our minds on the notion that things get better.

Live loud. Laugh hard. Love deep. But always, always breathe sweetly.

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