Air That Takes Your Breath Away

The other evening we were running ahead of schedule with the kid’s bedtime routine, so in an effort to hold out another 20 minutes we plonked ourselves on the couch and flicked on the news.

After a couple of stories about house prices, and something called Brexit, a segment came up that was actually really interesting.  It was an interview with a guy who hopes to make a lot of money exporting a New Zealand product to the Asian market.  This resource occurs naturally, is easy and cheap to access, is so abundant that supply will never be an issue, and no consents are required to take it.

What is this magical product, you ask?  Nothing but pure New Zealand air.

I actually laughed out loud.  The audacity!  The absurdity!  The cheek of it!  Images of this man’s grinning face were juxtaposed against flashes of anonymous multitudes of mask-donning Asians in the smoggy heart of Beijing.  I scoffed at how ludicrous the business venture sounded, but I think a big part of it was just jealousy that I’m not savvy enough to pull off a gimmick like this and make real cash from it.  Apparently Australian air has already hit the market and is doing quite well, with different flavours such as ‘Gold Coast air,’ ‘Blue Mountains air,’ and ‘Ayres Rock air’ appearing on supermarket shelves.  I laughed as I imagined households of Asians sampling the cans of compressed air like fine wines.

A part of me felt sympathy for the millions of Asians living in the toxic atmosphere of big cities, being driven to spend hard earned coin just to gain a few gasps of fresh air.  But it was just a small part, and quickly got forgotten as the glow of the TV faded and we were consumed once again by the daily madness of getting the kids to bed.

But today I got a particularly tantalising taste of some of New Zealand’s stock-standard air, and it caused me to pause and consider what this man’s ruse means for me and my fellow air-breathing friends.

I mean stock standard quite literally.  The air I sampled today was swept up by a biting southerly wind and carried across the rolling pastures of the Waikato.  The region’s thriving diary industry has raised concerns that the farts of a million cows are raising the methane levels of the atmosphere.  So this was no premium ‘Southern Alps’ air; crisp, clean oxygen infused with the untouched wildness of Fiordland and kissed by a hundred waterfalls.  It wasn’t even the delicacy of ‘Otago Peninsula’ air; cold breaths carried directly from Antarctica by an invisible hand and mingled with the subtle salty tang of a windswept coastline.

No, this ‘Waikato’ air I tasted was quite ordinary by comparison.  But it nearly took my breath away.

All I was doing was stepping out of the office between tasks to get something from my car.  But in that ordinary moment the cool breeze shocked me with a kiss that was electrifying.  Awakened by the tingling coldness echoing down deep into my lungs, my other senses shifted up a gear and I looked with new eyes on the magical world I now found myself in.  An oblique winter sun lacked any real warmth, but illuminated the rolling hills around me with crystal clarity.  Deeper shadows served to highlight the intricate skeletons of leafless trees, and sharpened the details of everything from decrepit fencelines to rustic farm buildings.  Above me, a blue sky was punctuated by serene puffy clouds, though the horizon was overcome by the moody darkness of an approaching front.

For some reason my thoughts returned to that man gleefully compressing air into cans ready for export.  It occurred to me that this experience of breathing fresh air, that I take for granted 99.99% of the time, is actually so incredibly precious.  This man’s entrepreneurial gambit now gave me a means of quantifying the gift that I consume so ungratefully, and the picture wasn’t pretty.  At about $20 a can, I realised that to enjoy just one morning’s worth of pure NZ air would require a loan.  And to buy the air I’ve enjoyed over the last year would send me into bankruptcy.

How tragic it is that we place so much value on what we don’t have, yet when we have something beautiful in complete abundance, literally under our noses and dispersing through every bronchiole of our lungs, we think absolutely nothing of it.

We’ll work hard to enjoy the thrill of getting the latest smart phone, or the subtle pleasure of driving a nice car.  Yet we never consider how lucky we are to have a heart faithfully pumping blood through our system.  We rarely take note of how precious it is to have witnessed a thousand sunsets.  We fail to recognise that the experience of warm rays of sun on an upturned face is quite literally a priceless gift.

The challenge I see in today’s world is not to experience new things, but to experience everyday things with new eyes.

I read an article recently about the life of J.R.R Tolkien, a man who wrote stories of epic adventures and heroic travels – though rarely ventured out of his own home town himself.  One simple sentence really struck home; “For Tolkien, his domestic routine, no matter how familiar, remained perennially fresh.”  Tolkein ‘got it,’ and in moments of clarity like this I can see clearly how foolish I am for chasing so desperately the new toys and novel experiences, when the world in front of me is magical enough if I would care to open my eyes to it.

So, if you’re reading this today, I invite you to take a breath.  Drink it in.  Don’t be polite, take an entire lungful.  Enjoy it as it swirls mysteriously through the cavities of your lungs and transmits life-giving oxygen from the atmosphere to the blood that fuels your miraculous body.  And breath it thankfully, because this breath (along with the last million you’ve taken) is on the house!*

*Unless you happen to live in ‘the smoggy heart of Beijing,’ in which case I apologise if this article has only inspired jealousy.

Lessons from the Spa

My chin rested on my arms as I pondered a mystery.  I could feel the cold kiss of rain on my back, and the warm embrace of the spa on my chest.  Somehow, suspended between these two opposing forces I never felt more alive.  The thought occurred to me that here, experiencing both extremes of pleasure and pain is where life is truly lived.  To immerse myself in the soothing waters of the tub brought lethargy, and to expose myself to the cold lashings of the rain led to misery.  Somehow experiencing both in full measure evoked a strange energy that coursed through my waterlogged veins.  It hinted, perhaps, at some curious relationship between those more profound manifestations of comfort and conflict.