Sisters Ida Phillips Alpher and Kate Phillips Horenstein
The other night at yoga, we practiced with our eyes shut.
We moved without seeing for 75 minutes. Apparently, it was the night to focus on our Third Eye—the body’s energy center for insight and intuition.
I, myself, am more focused on not falling. And, I have to admit that I opened my eyes a few times.
The first time is to make sure I’m not the only one with eyes closed, which, of course, makes me the only one with eyes open. The second time is to check the pose. And a couple more times, I have to say, is because I just can’t help it!
Aside from that, I move deliberately through darkness with those around me, listening to the matching melodies of the instructor’s voice and the music. Periodically, we sit back on our heels and bring our hands to forehead center for a look inside.
I wonder if anyone else has more than just themselves inside. Because inside me, I’ve got some company!
My grandmother, Kate, and her sister, Ida, were thick as thieves. Two sisters, one soul, their mother would say.
From the very beginning of their lives, they were on a journey together. Born in Russia, their father emigrated to the United States and sent for them with the rest of the family when they were only a few years old.
And, although my grandmother outlived her sister by many years, they paced the days of their lives alongside one another, always together.
When it was time for Ida to go to kindergarten, she refused, saying she would wait until the next year when her sister Kate would be old enough to join her. And when it was time for Ida to get married, she refused, saying she would wait until the time when her sister Kate would find someone, too.
So Kate and Ida, two best friends, married another set of two best friends, Max and Duvid (Do). They had matching engagement rings, a double wedding and a shared honeymoon.
My mother remembers my Aunt Ida and Uncle Do coming over every Sunday during her growing up years. The sisters would put dinner in the oven and climb into bed for a lazy afternoon, talking until it was time to eat.
During the rest of the week, the two spoke every day.
For some reason, since I’ve started practicing yoga, I’ve been thinking about these two sisters. I feel a kinship with them and, when I look inside, I feel their presence.
When I was little, we saw them every Sunday. They were in charge of my siblings and me when my parents traveled, and they patiently watched the many shows my sister and I would perform. We sang songs and played four square. And, best of all, my Aunt Ida let us toss knaidles, the Jewish version of dumplings, clear across the kitchen and into the pot.
And now as an adult, these sisters are back with me again, even recently appearing at one of the few meditation classes I’ve attended.
I was seated in a circle at a session led by a rabbi who’s established a mindfulness center at his synagogue. The rabbi related a story from the week’s Torah portion and discussed its mystical meanings that so closely relate to the Buddhist teachings of yoga, and then we closed our eyes for a few minutes’ meditation.
Afterwards, people volunteered the thoughts they had behind their eyes.
I listened but didn’t speak because what had appeared behind my eyes was more of an image than a thought. What I saw inside was my Aunt Ida and my Bubba Kate.
Somehow, I didn’t think it strange but, at the time, I wondered why they had appeared.
Now, though, as I write this, I realize that I was sitting in that circle because I was seeking something soothing at a tumultuous time. And, sitting there with my eyes closed seemed to help me find just that. In the connection behind my eyes, the image of these sisters passed along some peace.
A while ago, to celebrate a milestone birthday, I received my mother’s necklace from my parents, embedded with the matching diamonds from Ida and Kate’s engagement rings. With permission, I dismantled the necklace into a pair of earrings to be shared among the generations in the family—the diamonds, like the sisters, a complete set.
My Aunt Ida was my mother’s confidant, a strong woman who lived her life outwards, making many connections and sharing in her sister’s family when she herself could not have children. It’s my guess that my Aunt Ida may have been my Bubba Kate’s safety net.
Kate lost her husband and later lost her sister Ida. And then she stayed on her own, living in a much more isolated way.
And now, these days, when I sit back for a look inside, I see in myself the opposite sides of each sister. I see the one who connects so easily with others, and I see the one who remains more so on her own.
I’ve been battling to reconcile these two opposite ends, but now I’m thinking that maybe it’s okay they’re both there, like two sisters with one soul. Maybe, having both is like matching up two diamonds for a beautiful set of heirloom earrings.
The class is over sooner than I realize. Practicing like this has taken all my concentration, and it takes a moment to reorient myself. I wrap up my mat and thank the instructor, grateful for the chance to have closed my eyes and seen so much.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Provided by Author