It’s still officially spring, but isn’t Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer? I guess we can start wearing white now. Just kidding–you know you can wear white wherever and whenever the hell you want to, right? And anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest knows that summer doesn’t truly begin until sometime in late July. (Thankfully.)
I hate the heat, but I love the warmth and promise that arrives between late May and early July. Before the firecrackers are launched and the dog days set in, when the grass is still green and the gardens lush with blooms. It is a heady time, the air full of fragrance–warm dirt and berries, barbecue and cocoa butter.
It wasn’t long ago that I had been searching for a photo that had been downloaded onto our desktop’s library and got swept up in a wave of memories as I scrolled into the summer of 2016. A kaleidoscopic photo diary of that summer–beaches and cities and sunsets and art fairs stretched out before me. A summer rich with experiences. I grew nostalgic and even a bit envious of the summer I had that year. Last summer–2017–had felt different and I wondered why.
A torn meniscus and the resulting pain and limited mobility. A crushed spirit. Lost mojo. Energy drained. I told my friend I didn’t want to go to the drag races last summer because it would be “too hot and too loud” and then regretted missing the heat and roar and the dusty parking lot where we’d wait out the lengthy line of exiting race fans, sitting on the open hatch of my Prius with cool drinks, limp sandwiches and deep conversation.
I closed my photo library on the desktop and immediately messaged my friend, instructing him to write up a wish list of things to do this summer. Concerts, fairs, day trips, restaurants, hikes–bring it on. I told him I would be doing the same and we’d meet up and commit to a calendar of events. We made plans to meet for brunch on a rainy Sunday in March and hatch our summer agenda.
We never made it to brunch that day because I spent the afternoon with the Mister and my daughter in a hospital room in Tacoma, holding the warm hand of an unconscious young woman on life support. A brilliant young woman whom we loved, who–for whatever reason–couldn’t face the future. Her sister, bustling about, taking care of everyone and their sadness, her plans for the future immediately paused and altered in the chaos of life and death.
It is such a privilege to be able to plan. It is a gift to be able to look forward.
This summer, I am not taking that privilege for granted. I now have two knees sporting torn meniscus but my spirit is strong and my mojo is back in town. There will be concerts outdoors and crowded art fairs where I will grouse about the “too many people” and then laugh at my crabby, judgmental self. Ferry rides, just because. Sunsets over water and back fences and forests. Sunrises on those early Thursday mornings when I rise before dawn to teach yoga. Sunrises that I will pause for and notice how very sweet the early morning summer air smells. Snakes on trails. A chorus of frogs at dusk. Showing more skin and caring less. Sunscreen.
Next summer is not guaranteed. Living fully through this summer–through tomorrow and the next day–is a privilege I will not take for granted.
Now, tell me your plans for this one wild and precious summer.
Twenty years from now, will you hold that heartfelt text from your best friend in your hands and smile at their handwriting and feel their presence?
Probably not. That makes me sad.
I hold the same nostalgic romanticism about letter writing as I do about baking one’s own bread or the musty bouquet between the pages of an old book or bellying up to the bar in the diviest watering hole in town, if you can still find one.
When people tell stories about finding a stack of letters bound by string or elastic, I feel a tingle down my spine. Words and paper, handwriting and emotion, all bundled together for someone to hold up to their nose and inhale. Tangible and real, an exchange of communication between humans that you can touch and feel and hold in your hands. I love it so much.
I’ve always been a letter-writer. I juggled a constant stream of pen pals as I was growing up and still keep in touch with a few via social media. I keep a ziplock bag of cards in an office drawer that I pull out when I think of someone and scrawl out a greeting and slide it into the mail. Whose heart doesn’t leap a little at the sight of a real postage stamp on the top right corner of a hand-addressed card or letter tucked into the monotonous stack of bills and solicitations found in most mailboxes these days?
The Mister and I met through a letter I wrote to the management company of the rock and roll band he worked with. Even then, letter writing was beginning to fade and few twenty-somethings took the time and effort to do so. I like to think it was the novelty of it that got the Mister’s attention, or perhaps it was my witty way with words or clever ideas. I wish he had kept that letter, but when you’re young and immortal you throw things away without much thought to the future.
I don’t save every birthday and Christmas card, but I do have a file folder where I stuff the ones that are covered with handwritten sentiments and love. I have a letter from my mom, sent to me when I was living on my own for the first time in Portland. She writes about going to The Sizzler with my dad and what TV shows she’s watching and how the house is too quiet without me. The sight of her meticulous, small handwriting fills me with love. I have a little note from my father, his rangy script thanking me for helping him grade a stack of college finals when he was overwhelmed with work. And if you’ve ever handed me a note or letter or a card expressing how yoga has impacted your life, that’s tucked in there, too. I take those out and read them again on days that feel hard and dark, those times when I wonder if I’m doing anything right.
I love the immediacy and efficiency of texting. I love how it keeps us in touch with each other, even with a simple kissy-face emoji when we’re too busy or tired to write more. Email is great to make plans and do business with. But you can’t hold any of it in your hands. You can’t see the familiar handwriting of your loved ones. It’s not the same and it shouldn’t replace the art and intimacy of letter writing.
So, write someone a letter today. It doesn’t have to be pages long. Tell them what they mean to you. Bring up a memory that makes you smile and write it down and share it with them. Send a birthday card, a thank-you note, a love letter. Doodle in the margins and sign your name with a flourish that feels right.
I’ll send you one, too, if you want. Message me your mailing address and I promise to put something in the mail for you.
A little something, a happy surprise for you to find in your stack of bills, to hold in your hands and maybe tuck away in a file to pull out again on your darkest days.
I’ve been watching you lately.
You who come to my class with your head tangled up in your worries and fears. I see you.
For the first eternity after beginning to teach yoga, I never looked up. I practiced in the front of the class, on my mat, breathing and cueing and moving and sweating just like the rest of you. My need to prove myself to you. Like you wouldn’t believe me or take me seriously as a yoga teacher if I didn’t show you that I could do everything I was asking you to.
I missed out on a lot.
I missed your triumphs when you caught your first millisecond of balance in Crow Pose. I missed seeing half the class drop to their knees because I was so intent on challenging everyone–on proving something to someone, mostly myself–that I forgot about who was actually in the class and what they came for. I missed seeing your cheeky t-shirts as you rose up into that first Mountain Pose that read “mama needs a cocktail” or “made of star stuff” that would have made me smile, or even laugh and get to know you a bit better.
In teacher training, my teacher would often cue us through Sun Salutation after Sun Salutation until my shoulders burned with the fire of effort and rivers of sweat streamed down my legs. She was looking for something from us. Not grit, not endurance, not mettle.
But flow. Dropping. Releasing. Getting out of our own way. Flow, baby, flow.
That moment–that magical moment when a class collectively drops into the rhythm of their breath and gets out of themselves is stunning. You stop tugging at your top, so worried that your beautiful belly which bears the evidence of the human you built there might show. You rise to standing at the top of your mat, strands of hair plastered willy-nilly across your face with an expression of utter peace and contentment. You don’t bother to wipe the hair out of your eyes because you don’t care and your lack of caring makes me smile. There’s no hurry up or keep up or fuck up because you are being far more than doing.
It gives me chills every single time. It makes me remember why I love my job.
Recently, I had read an article about Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, which made a claim about Jois prescribing twelve Sun Salutations a day as a cure for insanity. First of all, Pattabhi Jois was not a doctor and probably should not have been prescribing anything for anybody. Secondly, I was never able to locate that article again, so I cannot vouch for its validity. But I can vouch for the medicine that yoga has the potential to be. Yoga, in its purest sense, not yoga in its commercialized and commodified form. Not the perfected postures in color coordinated outfits Photoshopped to highlight the young, thin, white model’s muscle definition. But yoga as a means of dropping ego and self and diving into the depths of breath and presence. Getting out of your manic mind and into something greater.
Meditation in motion.
I see it during Locust when you gather energy into your core and allow your breath to lift you up, almost effortlessly. I see it as you pause, taking time to find your roots and stability and then kick back and stretch forward into the balance of Dancer’s Pose. I see it in your soft, steady gaze as we hold Warrior 2 and you realize how fierce and grounded you truly are. I see it as you lower to your knees and bow to the floor in Child’s Pose, honoring the reality and truth of your body today.
In my second eternity of teaching yoga, my practice is paying attention. Watching, guiding and reminding until I see you drop the noise of yourself and flow into something greater.
I see you.