The Guy Who Changed My Life

We all have the power to change the lives of others. Some of us go to school and learn the skills of a profession that will shape lives. We spend years and tens of thousands of dollars in school to do it. Others cultivate the ability to affect the lives of others, and it takes time. They have to dedicate themselves and put in the work.

But I met a guy last week with the power to change lives JUST BY EXISTING! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. He wasn’t here before. And now he is. And suddenly, my daughter and her husband became a mom and a dad, my other daughter was miraculously transformed into an Auntie, and I, yes little-ol-me, I became a grandma. (I prefer Oma – the German  term- cuz it has “Om” in it!)

This guy looks a lot like others his age – very little hair, squinty eyes, and mysterious burbly sounds coming out of both ends. And yet, he has a certain charm, a je ne sais a quoix (I who am I kidding, I do sais quoix – he’s my little Om-lette!) He’s quite warm and snuggly, and he sighs adorably when I hold him in my arms. He’s definitely what you might call a Tit man; just ask his mother! And what a snappy little dresser; he has a wardrobe that knows no end, even though one sock is usually falling off.

The minute I met this little guy (yes, he’s quite short!) I fell in love. He looked at me quizzically and more deeply than I have been examined in a long time. My daughter says he doesn’t see very well. But he and I knew we were exchanging the first of many looks that would link us for a long, long time to come.

Unlike many cute guys I have met, this one is staying out of the spotlight for now. He wishes to remain anonymous. That’s the kind of mysterious person he is. Every time I see him, he’s changed a bit. He is quite the man of mystery.

And so I am inexplicably linked now to this new guy in my life, one who can transform people without effort. He causes my daughter to lose sleep. Her husband too. He has me speaking in strange non-words and syllables, in a tone of voice I barely recognize. He’s a powerful little dude. We talk on the phone sometimes, but he doesn’t say much. He doesn’t have to. What we share escapes mere words.

So if I sometimes seem distracted, especially by other short bald people, or if you find me staring at my phone, exclaiming, “Oh my God you are so cuuuute!” or giggling non-stop, please forgive me and cut me a little slack.

There’s a new guy in my life!

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Why I Teach Yoga

I left yoga class in tears today.

They were tears of gratitude. I felt profoundly grateful upon leaving class; not because my ego said I “got it right.” And not because I earned a ton of money. It was because I had a crappy day at my full time job. I felt desolate and empty, but I knew that teaching would wipe that feeling out, leaving me refreshed and refilled. It always does.

When I’m a student taking class, I have come to accept that whatever I need will most likely be offered to me in yoga. If it’s a sub for the teacher I thought would be there, if it’s a ninety minute class and I thought it was sixty, all will be well. I just have to open to the offerings and accept them.  Of course, there may be times I don’t connect with a teacher, with the style, or the theme of class. That’s all okay.  There are times I can’t be in the moment as much as I should.  I sometimes still keep my angst about that mean email, the thing I argued with my daughter about, or the guy who cut me off with his Camaro on the way in. Yoga helps me through all that, and if I’m present, it allows me to let it go. But there are certainly times that I don’t, or can’t, or won’t.

It’s different when I teach.

As a teacher I am present, I am in the moment. I have to be. I have the responsibility of guiding people in a practice, making them feel acknowledged, and being sure they don’t hurt their bodies. It’s an enormous thing even though it may seem small. It’s the reason I try to learn more, taking training after training, soaking up what I can so I can give more.

And I have come to realize that teaching yoga fulfills me the way nothing else in my life can do. I have found my home. I have found my tribe.

I have found a tool to battle the insecurities that plague me and the self-doubt monkeys that are always chattering in my brain. Through kind mentorship and others who allow me to try, to create, to make mistakes, and to recover, I have strengthened my voice and steadied my stance.

It’s why I practice yoga.

It’s why I teach.

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Nobody Should Be Alone at Christmas

Another year of just surviving the holidays has come and almost gone. Christmas is about being with family and loved ones. I woke up with my dogs (yes they are loved ones.) I thought about how sweet it is to have small children around on Christmas. I thought about how sweet it is to be in love on this special day. I thought about how half my family is dead already. And that I miss them.

So I went to yoga. One of our teachers has the tradition of offering the gift of a free Christmas class. Moving my body felt good. I could connect with my outer strength, hoping it would lead to inner strength. Sweat made my body shine. My wonky knees and foot pain were held a bit at bay. Tears that were there at the start of class had subsided.

But then my Mom’s favorite Christmas song played, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, and I had to leave the room.

My mom really loved the holidays, every single one of them. She had so many Christmas decorations! Before she got sick, she and I did a trip to Germany to shop the Christmas markets. I have pictures of us, bundled up in the driving sleet, sipping Gluhwein. She made a strata for breakfast every Christmas morning. Today my breakfast was coffee and Xanax. She would make an elaborate Christmas dinner, often trying out new recipes. I miss that.

My brother, too, loved Christmas, until towards the end, when life had beaten him down. He would wear a Santa hat and his Christmas lights vest (it hangs in my closet now, I cannot bear to wear it today.) He came bearing gifts for all and bottles of rum for himself (of course he would share.)

Our family has dwindled. My own daughters are grown and spending the day with their guys. It’s just another day, really. The significance of the day is a construct. I texted the crisis line and was connected with Mary (get it? Mary Christmas!) Just knowing that someone was on the other end helped. I’m going to get my shit together and go see a Clint Eastwood movie with my dad. I’ll be all right.

People tell me I have a great life, and I do. I have a good job; stressful, but also joyful, and with good pay and benefits. I do what I want, when I want. I travel at every possible opportunity. Lots of people can’t do that. I’m very lucky. But the flip side is, I’m alone a lot. I have to fight the emptiness. The tendency to swim down and stay there.

So I guess the message is, count your blessings. I was blessed to have a close family. Now many are gone. But I’m still lucky in many ways. I have Mary. I have the dogs. I have the people who are in my life even though they are not right here.

Next year, to hell with it, I am taking off to Bora Bora or something, some island where Christmas does not even exist except as a cute tradition that other people participate in.

 

*Crisis Text line: 741741

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Finding Inner Peace in our Outer Limits

 

I am here in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, learning to relax. Or rather, to learn restorative Yoga poses for my own practice and to teach to others.

It’s challenging to be in a busy city and to try to find ways to attain and keep the peace we all long for. We rest in a cocoon of trust and comfort all morning and at mid-day the quiet of our practice space gives way to the cacophony of weights clanking, people grunting, and loud dance music from the Cross Fit studio below. We then step out into the world, blinking our eyes in the bright glare of day-to-day city life. And although I am here on a vacation from work, there is still stress. Why did the number seven bus not come for 45 minutes and am I going to be late for yoga now?  Is it safe to walk past that homeless guy who is yelling at the tree? Life rudely intrudes upon my inner sanctuary of peace. I will defend my damned bliss with fisticuffs if need be!

Even these moments of stress, though, present an opportunity to drop in and breathe. The sanctuary still exists; it’s just sometimes harder to reach. And now, with the additional anxiety of the approaching holiday, it’s even more crucial to access the quiet place within. To feel the breathe ebb and flow, the heart beat, the prana fill the body.

Cities are astonishing places; networks of nooks and crannies that possess secret treasures around every corner. A cute coffee shop, a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, a colorful mural painted on a brick wall. These little surprises are there to delight anyone who is ready to be delighted. But of course there are many sad sights too: so many homeless people in this very expensive city, piles of garbage, and sad single women lamenting the dearth of available decent men.

Perhaps, to apply an awkward metaphor, our bodies are also like the city, waiting for us to discover all the joys and challenges we each hold in the hidden corners of our amazing selves. We each have wonderful strengths we can nurture and celebrate, as well as sweet weaknesses we can examine and send our compassion and understanding to.

In class one day we practiced assembling ourselves into a side lying position. We had blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows for our support and comfort. After class I walked up 15th street and saw two men, a few yards apart, in this exact position, minus the blankets and bolsters. It’s hard sometimes to reconcile the unfairness in our world.

And still we soldier on, each of us facing a unique combination of circumstances, yet united in our existence on this beautiful wounded planet. The techniques we have learned for relaxing, snatching moments of peace in a hectic world, and passing them on to others through our own teaching are a welcome toolkit. Maybe they are even a passport to deeper understanding and acceptance of our own human tendencies. In feeling this tender connection to self and others, we hope to start the ripple of compassion that will unite us in creating a better world for all.48374478_10215236426956220_3885528810996629504_n

photo credit: Caramia Tambornino

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Shooting in Yoga Studio

Such turbulent times we live in, but here is one yogi’s response to violence. Thank you!

SVA Blog

Nirmalananda seriousBy Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Friday night, a man entered Hot Yoga Tallahassee and shot several of their students.  Two have died.  The students resisted and even fought back, consistent with yoga’s warrior tradition.  The shooter killed himself.

At DYMC, we are going to be increasing our security measures and doing staff trainings to protect ourselves and our students in case of any threat.  The Board will spearhead this essential initiative, for which funding is likely to be needed.

In Tallahassee, one of the yogis was a student at Florida State University.  The other was a faculty member.  The President of the University has issued a statement along with several officials from local police and government.  More information is available on CNN.

FL yoga studio shooting 181102The city tweeted, on their verified account, “As we process the gut-wrenching act of violence that took place this evening in a place of peace in our community…” …

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It’s been a year since you left us. Passed on. Gone to Heaven. Died. And lately I have been missing you more than ever. There is so much I want to tell you, so much I want to share. I need your listening. You always listened, and no one else does. Not the way you did.

Emily just had brain surgery. You remember the tumor? It was benign, thank goodness. But her recovery has been rockier than we all imagined. She’s struggling. I want to tell you about it. I need to tell you. You are the only one who would get how hard it is when your baby is suffering and you just can’t help it go away. (I remember you said I have to stop calling them “my babies”, but now is just not the time.) I know you would cry with me and comfort me and say the right things. It’s so hard to say them to myself. I need your help.

There is so much that I wanted to tell you over this past year. How I conquered the crap situation at work. What I did in the garden this spring (you should see my wildflowers!) Emily’s Christmas wedding was beautiful. But Christmas itself was brutal. After the first of the year Veronica moved back in with me, and I think she’ll finally go back to school. You remember how much she loved her classes once she started them. She’s been a big help to Grandpa, too.

And he misses you by the way. I don’t think that should come as a surprise. As imperfect as your marriage was, he really misses you. But you would be proud of him. You prepared him well during your sickness; he can cook for himself, do laundry, and he’s even gardening. He does it for you, in your honor.  He grew tomatoes from seed and bragged about his green thumb. It shattered me.

You should know, too, that we all created an altar for you and Eric last October at the museum. I kept all of your Day of the Dead stuff. It was beautiful and you would have been pleased. I stood to the side sometimes when I visited it and watched people read about you both. I wondered if they felt sad that we had lost a mother and a brother (a wife and a son, a Grandma and an uncle) within a year of each other. I had pictures of all the dogs, too. So many dogs in a lifetime, it was mind-boggling. We had lots of artifacts from your life and from Eric’s. It was cathartic to do it. But we won’t do it again. It hurt too much.

I am planting a tree in your memory on July 16th. I wanted to ask you what kind you would prefer. I suppose I will just have to take my best guess.

Mom, I know you are with me still. I have so much of your stuff that I always have a sweet reminder of you. I’m wearing your nightgown as I write this. I have memories of our conversations, too. Dad could never believe how long we would stay on the phone when I was making long drives, remember? Now Emily calls me on her long drives. (The doctors will have to clear her to drive again, sometimes it takes a few months.)

I have a request: would you please visit my dreams more often? Visit dad, too. He dreamt that you were at a party full of ladies wearing pink and drinking champagne. You were all laughing. He smiled when he told me. I know you must be busy, but you should make it a point to say hello once in a while. It would mean a lot.

How do I end a letter to someone I already said goodbye to? I guess I can just say thank you: thank you for the unconditional love. I think I’ll never have that again. But I had it for 54 years. Your own mother died so young. I feel lucky.  I remember something you used to say:

My Mother loved me, but she died.babe

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That Hospital

In my imagination, I am like the Tom Hanks character in “The Terminal”, lost and wandering, making a life in this big building full of diverse people in blue scrubs or backless gowns, full of vending machines and fluorescent lights. By night bedding down on a vinyl couch, by day on a quest to find the least disgusting public restroom.

In Reality (or something close to it) I am just a harried mom taking shifts with my younger daughter and my son-in-law while my oldest daughter recovers from her brain surgery. I’m not sure any of us really knew what to expect, and we are getting through it the best we can, with good intentions and love and concern, getting in the way of kind nurses, asking for the third time, timidly, what Emily just asked for in a whispering mumble as she comes and goes from much-needed rest.

It’s Day Six. She just moved rooms for the fifth time: from the ICU (two rooms there) to a patient floor, to her second room on the Rehabilitation floor. This last move was a welcome one; her roommate in her first rehab room was an obese woman in a wheelchair who routinely yells and curses at the staff and goes out for frequent cigarette breaks, bringing that smell back with her. (My daughter Emily has become extra sensitive to smells: the lotion I applied, the onion bagel her sister ate for breakfast, the coffee on our breaths as we struggle to stay coherent after sleeping just a few hours a night.) In that tiny shared room the sleeping chair was wedged between the wall and the hospital bed. The curtain separating the two beds was hardly a barrier between the curses and snores of the other occupant and my somnolent child. Distraught, I asked at the desk if perhaps there might be someone leaving in the next few days; if there was any chance that my daughter, recovering from brain surgery, might get an opportunity to have a different room.  Tears leaked from my eyes. The nurses at the desk glanced up at the very full board, noting who the roommate was, and met my eyes with sympathy. “Maybe we can shift someone around,” the charge nurse said. Before long, he came with the good news: a private room for Emily.

“I asked about that yesterday. Nicely,” her husband said when the nurse left.

“I threatened them!” my younger daughter half-joked.

“And I cried,” I admitted.

So in a ploy that shall henceforth be called “Good Cop, Bad Cop, Sad Cop”, we achieved the goal of a room where my daughter can properly heal.

It’s been odd.  My adult daughter has been on her own for ten years, not needing me the way she once did. But now I am having experiences that remind me of caring for her as a baby. Last night I heated up her tea and tested the temperature on my wrist. I help her walk unsteadily to the bathroom, holding her hand. Her eyesight is still impacted by the surgery, so I’m reading aloud to her. It’s now Nicholas Sparks instead of Clifford, but it’s still déjà vu.

My younger daughter accompanied Emily to her PT session in the gym, where other patients were working. One man had no legs and no hands.  Another was re-learning how to talk. I know we are lucky; Emily will have a full (and, I hope, speedy) recovery. She’s young. She has plans. Not much stands in the way of this determined young lady.  She will spend her birthday in here. But she’ll get through it.

And she has a strong and loving support team in her good, bad, and sad cop family.

 

“Hey, I could wind up in there; maybe so could you.
Anything can happen when there’s nothing we can do;
And if you come to see me, Lord, and you sit in that visitor’s chair,
Take something home from that gift shop so you’ll have a souvenir
From that hospital”

– Loudon Wainwright iii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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