Freedom to Breathe

A shower fell in the night and now dark clouds drift across the sky,
occasionally sprinkling a fine film of rain.
I stand under an apple tree in blossom and I breathe.
Not only the apple tree but the grass round it glistens
with moisture; words cannot describe the sweet fragrance
that pervades the air. I inhale as deeply as I can, and the
aroma invades my whole being; I breathe with my eyes open,
I breathe with my eyes closed — I cannot say which gives me
the greater pleasure.

This, I believe, is the single most precious freedom that
prison takes away from us; the freedom to breathe freely
as I now can. No food on earth, no wine, not even a woman’s kiss
is sweeter to me than this air steeped in the fragrance of flowers,
of moisture and freshness.

No matter that this is only a tiny garden, hemmed in by five-story
houses like cages in a zoo. I cease to hear the motorcycles backing
radios whining, the burble of loudspeakers. As long as there is fresh
air to breathe under an apple tree after a shower, we may survive a little longer.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in prisons and labor camps after his arrest for writing a letter critical of Josef Stalin. After his release from prison, he spent three years in internal exile. On February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and deported from the Soviet Union.