About a year before Covid, I swapped houses with a friend in Redondo Beach and she came to Kauai, and from the start my trip on the mainland was a shit show. I was getting in at midnight, and she explained how to get into her gate and how many flights of concrete stairs, but I was tired and I entered the wrong apartment, which was also unlocked.
It was dark inside, and when my eyes adjusted, there were about two hundred dirty dishes in the sink. I had deep cleaned my home for my friend, and I thought…WTF? She couldn’t clean her dishes? I couldn’t find the light switch.
That’s when I heard the dog growl and start knocking things over to get to me. I knew my friend didn’t have a dog, I backed out and slammed the door, my heart pounding.
Then I walked a level down and went into the right apartment.
There were no dishes in the sink, there was a welcoming note. I felt like Goldilocks, the bed was just right too.
The very next day my lungs shut down. Like they do sometimes, because they are my lungs and that’s another story.
It became hard to breathe. The fire air wasn’t so great – 30 percent, and then it got worse, and my mother had just died.
I knew grief and fear lodge in the lungs. They stagnate there.
I was struggling, talking became challenging. Teaching my online classes became difficult because we need breath to talk.. I called Hawaiian Airlines and booked a flight back to Kauai early, making arrangements to stay with Larry, since someone else was in my home.
At the gate to Kauai, with my boarding pass in hand, I asked for an aisle seat. It was obvious something was wrong with me to the women at the gate checking me in, and they asked me if I was contagious, if I should even be on the flight. This was a few years before Covid.
I told them I wasn’t contagious, that I had a heart lung condition the fire air made it worse. left out the fact that my mother had just died, that every time my brother called, I hit the red decline button on my phone.
These are things we should be able to say to each other at the gate to an airplane, but we don’t. The truth is hard enough to say to ourselves.
The Hawaiian airlines employee gave me a different seat, with more space.
I got on the plane, suppressing my cough – cough medicine wouldn’t work. I went to my seat and two young women in their twenties were sitting next to me, and they had a baby they were passing back and forth, too small for his own seat.
Shit, I thought. They are going to be worried for the baby.
I turned to them and explained my situation. I assured them I was not contagious, that their baby was safe, but I would move if they were too worried.
And they both leaned forward looking at me, and they said…are you Kele Murray’s mom? We love, Kele!
They said they weren’t worried, they wanted me to sit with them, they said they would take care of me if I needed anything.
I wasn’t on Kauai yet, but I was on the plane with her people. And I swear to God, those girls shared their life stories with me during that flight, taking my mind off my own grief and breathing,
Because stories heal. Babies heal. Kindness heals.
A few minutes into the flight – one of the girls – they were sisters – said, you can cough, don’t suppress it for us, we aren’t afraid of your cough.
The five-hour flight felt like twenty minutes, a magic carpet ride back to my magical island.
At the airport, they hugged me goodbye.
And the next day when my brother called, I answered the phone as if it was just any day. Soon into the conversation we started to laugh – really hard, as if no time had passed. We forgot the dementia, the father, the money, because my brother is very funny. He’s like my father. Every cell in his body is a jokester, and of course that’s another way of releasing grief. Of putting down the heavy armor.
In this time of a pandemic, our lungs ask us to grieve, not to suppress grief. We don’t inhale the grief and not keep it there. Our lungs want us to take the deepest breaths into the loss, into the grief and into the laughter. Into the all of it.
And then our lungs want us to exhale, so it goes out into the air, into the earth, into the universe, back to the source. Our lessons return home, they are released into the world.
And I tell you this story because the virus we are all facing is a lung virus. It grips the lungs like grief and fear. And our lungs can’t hold onto grief without also attaching to illness.
Grief is its own virus. It blows out arteries, brings on disease, can even blast a hole through your heart. I even had a girlfriend who lost her ability to walk from grief, from a rape she she suppressed. Her legs said, you have to look at this or I’m not getting up for you anymore.
Our lungs and our bodies ask so much of us, my friends. You owe your lungs a pause. A walk in nature, to inhale joy – as much joy and beauty and hope you can find.
If you are holding onto grief and fear, your body needs the best chance you can give it – not just now in the pandemic, or any future pandemic, but always.
And we can help each other. Caring for each other is the essence of Hawaiian culture – Hawaiians have a word for it – Mālama…to take care of, to protect, to watch over.