This past year has taught me a lot. I learned what is really important to me.

Life and living is important?”not just that you live but how you live. I am fortunate to have so many friends that live their convictions, passionately. After a year of loss of close friends and family, I was tired. Not weary, just exhausted. I could not catch my breath.

I finally understood the title of the book, Waiting to Exhale, by Terry McMillan. What was I holding my breath for? What was I waiting for?

I have always known that happiness is an inside job. However, I also know that what makes me rest well is making sure that my family is well. I was not feeling well rested, nor did I feel that the well being of my family?”my children especially?”was protected.

It became clearer to me that when I am not well, then I cannot share wellness with my children or my husband.

Living on the West Side, I have sometimes felt that my perspective on the world is tinted by “life on the West Side.” Life on the West Side has its moments of joy. Yet we’re also immersed in the political reality of disenfranchisement, inferior schools, and/or drugs.

Always, always, always, having to point out what is wrong, what needed fixing, left me with a restless mind and a bitter taste in my mouth. Why do black communities have to fight for everything? Well, not everything. Black communities have access to some of the most destructive things known to man?”40 oz. malt liquor, drug trade, etc. My point is that we have to fight for parks, schools, fair housing, and everything else. The work didn’t leave me tired, it was fighting the same fights. Faces change but the game remains the same.

By connecting to a power greater, I can tap into my inner peace, joy and contentment. For me, it has meant letting go of things that I no longer need?”physically and psychically. I realized that it was time for our family to move.

Looking around, I would think to myself, ‘Is this what I want for my kids?’ Hovering over them as they try to play among drug dealers that are parading up and down my block. A few times, I have had to hurry them in the house because the police were chasing someone down the street! Damn! When will this change? Will it ever change?

We were tired of shuttling them around to “better” neighborhoods so that they could take advantage of some community programming that simply was not available in my neighborhood. The “better” was subjective. These were not necessarily better places, but someone had told a lie and the rest of us believed it. So there it is, the “better” neighborhood.

Living a life that is filled with stress can make you sick and fat. I got tired of being both fat and stressed. I started exercising?”running, going for walks at Columbus Park.

The beauty that lies right in my backyard pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed the park and the other walkers, runners. People actually spoke when they passed by. I felt like this is the time to exhale. It doesn’t mean getting a man. It means truly enjoying life and living completely in the moment.

These walks/runs encouraged me to explore nature more. I started going to the forest preserves. The ones close by?”in Melrose Park. Walking along the Des Plaines River. I would find a great deal of beauty. I have a growing love affair with nature, and I lost 40 pounds!

I decided that I wanted more than 30 minutes of beauty and peace a day. We moved to Plano, 60 miles west of Chicago. In the cornfields, we bought a new home in a sub-division, close to family farms and forest preserves. There are not many black people out here, but the schools are good?”not great but good. The kids are happy?”happier than I have ever seen them. They can play and play and play!

We live close to Silver Springs Forest Preserve. A few weeks ago, we all went fishing. My 7-year-old son really took to fishing. He sat still for one hour and was not playing a video game. It was beautiful to watch him.

I am grateful for the house, but the house is a non-gratitude item. Gratitude is an action; it is a behavior not tied to a thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to make changes that I know will change my children and my family forever. We are spending less time explaining what a foster care system is or what those guys are doing on the corner or why that lady is half-naked on the corner or why mommy is going to so many community meetings. We are spending more time explaining to my son and daughter what makes a great fishing hole and how to find the little dipper in a clear evening sky and that they can be whatever they want to be, not what someone else decides for them to be. We have more time to be a family.

I am grateful for breath. 40 pounds lighter, I can exhale and deeply inhale. I am eternally grateful for the breath of life.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to breathe deeply.