Saturday night a DC yoga teacher, Michael Joel Hall, was attacked with his boyfriend on their way home.
Today, Thursday, we are in the midst of an overwhelming response that leaves all of us in the middle of occasionally breathless, grateful and humbled.
What happened to Michael was ugly, but the result has been beautiful.
Things are still in flight, so much is going on. I’m just not sure how I’m going to put it all down for you, but I’ll try. You need to hear this story, not only so that you can join in if you want, but so that you can appreciate the power of community we are blessed with as yogis. Eloquent analogies and yoga connections run around my head but collapse on the screen as I’m a bit too weary to map them out for you. If you will forgive me, I’ll just tell you how we got here.
Sunday: I was on my way to teach a workshop when I heard about the attack. I went and told the room our class had just become a fundraiser. After class, I went to the hospital to give MJH the few hundred dollars we had raised. There I found weary scared parents who had driven all night to see their son, a weary boyfriend who hadn’t slept much and a very strong yogi sitting in the ICU with a morphine drip and lopsided face. Right jaw and cheek were broken. Assuring him it would all be alright I thought “this is going to be expensive.”
On my way home, I got a couple common friends on the phone, “He definitely doesn’t have insurance.” We knew this because a month ago his apartment and possessions were lost in a fire. He didn’t have renter’s insurance and we knew he didn’t have health insurance either. What does facial reconstructive surgery cost anyway?
When I got home we reached out to five large DC studios and asked them if they would agree to send a few teachers to a big 108 Sun Salute fund-raiser and promote it. One replied, we were going to do our own fundraiser, but we can hold off for yours. I said “Do both.” None of us knew how this would grow.
Another friend of Michael’s had set up a Facebook page and PayPal link. As I went to bed, I thought about how we could really promote that. One news report ran that night.
Monday: Michael went in for his operation, he was told one risk was that since they were inserting the metal plate near his eye, his sight could be impaired. Om Namah Shiviya. With fingers crossed, we focused on doing what we could: raising funds and sharing word of the classes. That day, I found myself being buried in emails, I posted on Facebook “Who wants some work to do?” More emails came, but I quickly handed off dealing with media, coordinating all the classes, and looking into health care cost assistance to people eager to lend a hand. By the end of the day, not only had multiple studios posted their own fundraising classes on the Facebook page, but we had over 300 donations. The Facebook page had hundreds of members. That night, the local Lululemon who had promised support posted a Facebook page about our main event which they are helping to coordinate. Michael’s boyfriend posted that night that he was doing well after the operation.
Tuesday: Article and blogs started pouring in. The Washington Post wanted to run an article, but the Michaels just needed a day to recover. I found myself trying to calm the reporter down, as I relayed messages to Michael that it would help if they talked to him for a few minutes. At this point, all I could think about was how do we keep this word spreading, how do we keep people wanting to help? First dozens, then over a hundred people confirmed for the larger yoga event next Sunday. Maybe I should look into permits? No time for that.
The other news station wanted to talk to the Michaels—how did I end up in the middle of this? I asked them to wait a day, and graciously they did. The trouble with the press at this point, was that it focused on the attack. They asked, “Was this a hate crime?” Those of us talking to Michael knew he didn’t like that question. He wasn’t sure and, to him, it didn’t matter. I wished that the press would focus on what was happening, didn’t they realize we now had over 600 donations from 30 states and six countries? Didn’t they realize that a dozen of us—some who knew each other, some who didn’t—were trading emails around the clock while studios in Puerto Rico, NY, Montana (?) and the DC area were organizing events faster than we could post them?
Wednesday: Ask and it is given. The Washingtonian ran an article about all the classes that were happening. (They have had to update that a few times already!) Huff Post ran an article focusing on the response. We were up to 800 donations. Event planning. Reporters. Questions. Calls. Permits. At one point, Peg who has been my partner in organizational crime sent me a text message “My head hurts.” I laughed. Me too.
Michael bravely gave an interview to a local station. It took lots of courage to put his healing face in front of the camera, and the channel ran it in their first slot in the 11 p.m. news. The anchor had clearly been touched by all of this and also wanted to help.
The best part of my day was when Michael called. It felt so good to tell him all this, to let him know that yogis all over the country were hearing about this and sharing, teaching, donating to help.
Today: 362 people are coming to the event; 2,000 have been invited. I’m not sure how we get that many into the park, nor what the number will be in a week. 1,100 have joined the Facebook page for support, 7,000+ have been invited. Donations keep coming. We just have no idea if they will be enough, the hospital bills haven’t come yet.
What’s next: I don’t know. This community is all standing up to support one of our own and it is quite incredible to be a part of. Is it some sort of “yoga-bond”? Is it that Michael’s a wonderful guy who has planted so many good seeds in many hearts in this life and others? Is it that someone followed a vocation to teach yoga into a place of uninsured financial vulnerability and all of us have said “that could be me, I need to help.” My guess, all of the above. But watch this space, more is coming, and it will be good.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta