A Matter of Life and Death....
Monday, March 05, 2012
Last month, I had two reminders of how precious and brief life truly is.
First, on February 8th, I had the distinguished honor of sitting with my neighbor during his final hours of life. He was 30 years old. His wife had supported him through many years of chronic illness and multiple medical complications that eventually took its toll on his physical body. His mom and his wife were at his side when he passed away that evening. It seemed that they were already prepared to say their good byes as he had been in hospice care for the past few weeks as his body surrendered to the inevitable final transition. Tears were shed, laughter was heartfelt, prayers and hugs were part of the late night evening when other family and church members arrived to celebrate how this man touched each of their lives.
A week later, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, I awoke with the sweet remembrance of my mother who passed away from a short battle with pancreatic cancer exactly 20 years ago. I reminisced about how my humble and compassionate mother managed to selflessly raise my brother and me as well as act as the surrogate parent for many youth in our neighborhood. She was the go-to person when someone needed a baby sitter; she often stepped in to offer minor veterinarian care for those that could not afford to take their pet to the vet. She worked a minimum wage job to help her younger son through college, something her parents were not able to do for her. My mother was 42 when she passed away. According to one way of thinking, I will, therefore, be living on ‘borrowed time’ when I turn 42 in August of this year.
The minister at my neighbor’s memorial service boldly stated:
“Life is a gift, not an entitlement.”
The minister’s message touches my heart. I realize that every day, every breath is a gift and that my yoga practice is about staying present with this awareness.
I dedicate my service as a social worker and as a yoga therapist to my mother’s spirit, I also continue to deepen my understanding of what it means not to take anything for granted. As I find gratitude and balance in my life, I honor that my yoga practice on the mat is a metaphor for a constant need to recalibrate with the constant changes that occur How can I push myself to my physical limits while remaining in my open heart of compassion and lovingkindness? How do I balance my thinking mind with my feeling heart? How can I discern what pose to stay in and when to rest? When do I take in the wisdom of the teacher leading a class and when do I let my inner teacher lead my practice? How do I celebrate my body without getting attached to how it looks or how it feels in any given moment? How do I surrender into my final resting pose and stay fully aware of my relaxed state without falling asleep?
Lately the wisdom of the Muppets continues to remind me of the simple yet profound way I learn how to be present in each vulnerable moment of my vulnerable life. The other day, I was listening to my Muppet’s station on Pandora and this sweet little song came on. It’s Kermit’s nephew Robin singing a poem by A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame).
Here's the link if you would like to view and hear the original recording of
I actually remember watching this episode back in the 1970s and experiencing such an intense sense of vulnerability for this little Muppet creature who sits and quietly sings a song from his heart. "I hope no one comes down those stairs and accidentally steps on him," I thought to myself.
I am dedicated to keeping the most important things in life as simple as possible. I thank those that have demonstrated what it means to live life fully and die with dignity. I am grateful for the lessons my mother taught me as a child and the lessons my recently departed neighbor taught me during the brief time I got to reside near him.
Likewise, I dedicate my yoga class teachings to be an opportunity for each of us to dwell in mindfulness, to be grateful for each breath and smile. The practice of yoga can be an opportunity to remember our best selves, our true selves, and to make ourselves open to the new eternal present moment.
And I close with this quote by Erich Fromm:
“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.”
I know who, and I am certain you do, too!