Note: I’ve started writing about my Mom’s last two weeks by my side. Not sure if I’ll continue, and if so, into much detail….really listening from within to answer those questions. But for today, we deviate from those dreaded weeks in October 2015 and shift gears to a transformative weekend.
Seventh grade is when I learned that oxygen and nitrogen are the necessary gases to keep the heart beating, the brain alert, the body strong. We drew diagrams of heart chambers and valves and arrows to identify which vessels were veins and which were arteries. All of this required the necessary oxygen-rich blood, which stems from breathing and inhaling oxygen into the body.
My body, She knows what to do. Breathe in. Breathe out.
When pouring a glass of 2% milk into our cobalt blue everyday glass; when braking at the Walnut Street cross walk to allow high school students to strut to the other side; when zipping the ikat-print backpack to confirm a cellphone is charged. Breathe in. Breathe out.
These shallow breaths covers days, weeks, months. As the pansies are replaced with mums. As the shorts become too short and are added to the donation bag in the laundry room. As the window of daylight becomes shorter and shorter. Breathe in. Breathe out.
And every now and then, I’m jolted from my everyday existence with a new smell, a new conversation, a new idea, a new view. And I inhale, as if I were sitting on the paper mat at the doctor’s office, and fill my lungs with much needed oxygen.
That’s when the magic happens. When my senses become on fire. And I feel A L I V E.
This past weekend I drove the two hours to Kripalu, a yoga and health center in the middle of the Berkshires, for a yoga/meditation/writing seminar with a much admired writer. I arrived feeling out of my element and questioning my belongingness amidst the attendees who had prayer shawls, yoga mats or cool tattoos of ancient tribal symbols. I’d never done a downward dog let alone mumbled “om”. In my world, closing my eyes to meditate is called a mid-afternoon nap. And I certainly didn’t show up at the writing seminar with a memoire half-written or a plan to be published.
The first night, I sat solo at the dining table, feeling as awkward at age 44 in a cafeteria as I felt at 11. I went to bed Friday night wondering if I should ditch my original plan with a trip to downtown Great Barrington for some shopping and a movie.
Yet by mid-morning Saturday, something started to shift in me. The yoga? It felt good to stretch muscles that were used to running on pavement and cycling forward motion on spinning bikes. The meditation? I felt lighter after I was directed to wish happiness, joy and ease of living to not just those I loved, but those I loathed. And the writing? The writing allowed me to share a deeper layer of myself that is usually hidden below the surface.
It wasn’t until the last morning, when I awoke at 6am to the sun rising over Lake Mahkeenac. A fog hovered over the lake and trees, calling me to visit. I bundled up to the 48 degree temps, zipping my North Face gray fleece all the way up to my chin and headed down the one mile path. Almost to the lake, I passed another walker who struck conversation with me. We shared the nervousness of being out by ourselves at dawn, something Kripalu had warned us not to do. I nervously asked if she wanted to accompany me on the rest of my walk, to keep each other safe from the wild animals and human predators that possibly lurked behind the trees.
We walked and talked and as we rounded the corner, came across the most magical view. The fog was burning slowly off the water, with the sun rising above its peak. Two fisherman on a boat were the only signs of human life on the water. And the canoe — this magical little canoe that represented summer, escape, childhood — floated quietly in the backdrop.
My new friend and I shared quite a bit with one another over the next 30 minutes. Death of parents, major moves, diagnosis of an illness. We bared a layer of ourselves that only our inner circles may know.
And we breathed, big breaths. We inhaled fresh air, but so much more. We breathed a realization that we needed to slow down, nurture ourselves, step away from our scheduled life as wife, mother, friend.
I left that afternoon breathing more easily and more deeply that I probably had all year. For who knew, all I needed for healing and strength and perspective was something I’ve been doing since birth.