Taylor: Breath of life makes me one with the universe

Every creature, from the smallest to largest, draws energy from the atmosphere and exhales its waste back into the atmosphere.

I love this time of year. The days are still bright and warm. But when the sun slips behind the ridge across the lake, the temperature drops. Peace settles on the land, the lake, the sky.

The wind calms. The placid lake reflects the pink sunset that spreads across the sky, but deeper. Water turns to wine.

I sit on my deck, and take a deep breath.

At a presentation I attended recently, Bob Sandford made a startling statement. “The atmosphere you breath,” he said, “contains the exhalations of every creature that has ever lived on this planet.”

For several minutes I could not absorb anything else Bob had to say. And he had lots to say.

Bob is EPCOR chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative for the U.N.’s Water for Life Decade.

As he explained—once I could absorb ideas again—every creature, from the smallest bacteria to California redwoods, draws energy from the atmosphere, and exhales its waste back into the atmosphere.

Biologists divide all living creatures into two great groups—plants and animals. The division has nothing to do with whether those creatures are mobile or fixed in place. It’s how they breath. Plants breath in carbon dioxide, and breath out oxygen. Which is a good thing for us animals because we breath in the plants’ waste product—oxygen—and we exhale their raw material, carbon dioxide.

And we do this, plants and animals alike, whether we live on dry land or under water.

The very first living organism did it. And whatever that organism exhaled is still circulating in our atmosphere. A tiny component to be sure. But it’s still there.

The concept gives me a new perspective on the biblical legend of creation. Because the same ancient Hebrew word ruach can mean wind, breathe, or spirit, so some Bibles say “the Spirit of God moved over the waters.” Others refer to a “mighty wind” or “a breath.” But it’s actually the same thing.

It’s the same again when God “breathed” life into a clay figure. And when Jesus spoke of “the wind that blows where it will.” And when something like a strong wind blew among the terrified disciples at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

Ruach—the universal breath.

Whenever life developed, however life developed, whether you believe in evolution or intelligent design, the mark of life is breath. Breath began us; breath sustains us; the absence of breath will be our end.

When I sit on my deck and breathe deeply, do I breathe the breath of God? Or do I merely share the breath of life with everything that has ever lived?

Does it matter?

By breathing, I become immortal. A thousand years from now, if humans still exist, the air they breath will have been modified by the air that I breathe today. The air every other creature on earth breathes is shaped, influenced by the way I use that air—by my own exhalations and by the exhalations of human creations—our cars, our industries, our landfill sites.

I take a deep breath. I am one with the world.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author.

rewrite@shaw.ca