William Edelen: The Breath of Life

The Contrary Minister

The Lakota people have a beautiful and profound symbol for the “BREATH OF LIFE.” Most American Indian traditions have a similar symbol for that vital “breath” that sustains our existence. It is Feathers. Feathers are the image of the invisible breath that fills our lungs with the energy to function as a human being.

A recent immediate crisis in my own life, with loss of breath, led me to the feathers. I had to respond without delay to the panic in my own life. I was breathless… literally. I reflected on the feathers available to me.

A first feather: The Western medical approach.
Second feather: Eastern approach, with meditation, acupuncture, herbal.
Third feather: Taoism and Zen… very comfortable for me.

I made the choice and selected the first feather, with many parts of the second and third feather as support for my condition.

Over the last 18 years the condition has been accumulating and came to a crisis where my breathing was impaired at my last Symposium on December 2nd. My local physician referred me to Dr. Himelman, a cardiologist.

After a trip to the Emergency Room at Desert Regional, Dr. Himelman performed various tests and diagnosed Congenital Heart Failure due to a malfunctioning aortic valve. He followed up by contacting Dr. Raj Makkar at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to determine if I was a candidate for their ground-breaking interventional (catheterization) valve replacement procedure they are performing there. This procedure is not available in most hospitals, including here in Palm Springs.

Realizing the critical urgency, a friend, Gail Brydges, drove me for a full day of tests including 14 hours of testing and travel in nighttime driving.

The advice I received was that this was so critical the procedure needed to be immediate. It was a matter of life or death. An aortic valve is supposed to be the size of a quarter. Mine was the size of a pencil erasure… an opening near extinction with heavy calcification. It needed fixing immediately. With that in mind, the surgery was scheduled and performed on Christmas eve. The night after surgery I slept through the night… uninterrupted for the first time in months. On Christmas morning I was sitting upright in bed, eating breakfast for the first time in weeks.

Dr. Makkar and his team of specialists have been so successful with this minimally invasive surgery (i.e. not Open Heart Surgery) that Cedars-Sinai is dedicating a full wing for this technology when it opens its new facility in the summer of 2013. All tests, procedures and follow up are covered by Medicare. I thank The Great Mystery for this financial assistance or the entire event would never have happened and I would probably be dead now.

As I lay in that hospital room, my mind was flooded with the joys of feathers… as symbols for the Breath of Life, that vital “breath” that had been missing from my body. I wanted to get home and place feathers all over my home as a reminder… much like my dear friend Frank Waters did with his adobe house in Taos, New Mexico.

I am a writer who uses language to express feelings, yet there is no way to describe to you the absolute panic of sitting up in bed at night finding it impossible to breathe… to just take a simple breath. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my 90 years of living.

With the support of my three feathers I am now healed and well again and back to normal living. What an amazing, beyond belief, precious gift from the Mystery that is Life… where, to the Lakota, feathers became the symbol for the Breath of Life.