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That’s all I could say.
Something about the word—one syllable, two letters—could sum up a range of emotions not yet accessible or expressible, until they find their way into resolve.
“Oh” doesn’t choose sides. It doesn’t overthink or deem anything as good or bad.
“Oh” leaves space.
The “O” rolls out from somewhere deep in the chest and reverberates in the heart. Its roundness floats up the throat, glides over the tongue, draws the lips into a circle, then dissolves into “h”—a whisper…that trails into breath…that vaporizes into silence.
I don’t really recall the words that followed. What I do remember is the feeling conveyed between my mom and I: nobody is going through this alone. I’ll be there.
The 2,070 mile gap between “I’ll be there” and standing in the kitchen with keys clutched in hand felt vast. Canyons, lakes, mountains, plains, and rivers to somehow transverse. I could feel my heart beating, senses both heightened and numb at the same time.
What was I doing again?
The fuzzy Monchhichi keychain and cool-grooved metal clutched in hand were about to drive to yoga class, then onto a meeting. But there were calls to make. Too many really. The breakfast dishes, so unassuming and everyday, looked abandoned. I ran water over them, because that’s what we do to wash dishes. Running faucet, clinking flatware, normalcy. The clock said I could make class on time if I left within a few minutes.
Dad has left his body.
But my body is here. Standing in the kitchen in yoga pants with keys clutched in hand. Breathing. Capable. I’ve got this—I mean, what else can I do? There are people relying on me to keep it together. And I can. I am from strong stock. We are all a culmination of a lineage of survivors.
So, until my flight leaves for Indiana—my childhood home, my mom—all I can do is put one foot in front of the other, go about my routine, be present for the kids.
How do I tell them? And when?
I don’t know, but I know I need to buck up and honor my commitments. When the world feels off, routine and time are a good remedy to normalize things again. I learned this as a college student in the Netherlands after friends and I made the mistake of eating a seemingly innocuous chocolate cake in a coffee shop.
I’ll go on with my regular day. Here we go. I step outside. My gaze lifts to the same trees it rests on every single day, but it all looks so different. Everything looks as if it has something to say to me.
Rain pours. Of course—right on cue. If this were a script, I’d rewrite it. The sky is so not crying; that’s stupid.
I perch on the turquoise cushions under the awning and try to find my breath. Branches and vines twisting around each other, some with blossoms, some probably in need of a trim to make way for new growth. Grey flat light. Birds sheltered somewhere in the brush.
I try not to label it soothing or sad. Nature is just doing its thing—details. One droplet of water stands out to me, hanging on a leaf that looks greener than usual. A tear-shaped capsule, clear and full, suspended, pulling the leaf toward the earth as it collects; above it, a perfectly round bud, and next to that a vibrant bloom, layers of bright pink crepe in contrast to its yellow center.
Maybe this droplet would just hang on forever until it evaporates. But gravity tells us otherwise. In time, it will surrender to the weight, and finally let go. My eyes follow as it disappears into the ground, next to a scattering of spent flowers.
The dropping of petals looks like a ceremony for love, or like a mass grave, depending on the day.
I trust the natural order of things.
My yoga practice. It knows what I need and asks nothing of me but presence. Get up. Business as usual.
I walk into an already full room of mats and chatter, like normal. My teacher kindly makes me a space. I am exactly where I need to be in this moment.
The familiar space in my body, in this place, with these people. The way the light fills the room. My beloved teacher’s playlist that ranges from kirtan to gay nightclub to 60s folk rock. I can drop in and pay attention to this—here, now. Something to anchor me so I don’t float off the freakin’ planet.
Rise with the inhale. Release with the exhale.
Breath gets longer, steadier. Right foot forward. Arms lift. Feel your spine lengthen, rib cage expands. Create space, come what may.
We can embody the courage of a warrior, the grounded balance and quietude of a tree. The humility of a wobbly bound chapasana, and the surrender of a Seated Forward Fold.
We breathe together, we move together, and we flow. Something continually wells up, crescendos, and spills over. We are in the pose, then not in the pose. Each builds into and onto the next. We pay attention, we work, we find the peak expression that we can possibly muster in that moment; then eventually, every pose disintegrates until we are no longer in the pose.
And we surrender.
Surrender to what is.
The peace of savasana—Corpse pose.
Be bow. We open our eyes.
I linger in that space. There comes a time when we can no longer avoid what’s inevitably coming.
“Do your practice. All is coming.” I remember the words of David Swenson, “And we’re not just talking rainbows and butterflies. All the sh*t’s coming our way.” So we practice. We practice, as strong, humble, peaceful warriors perpetually in training for what’s to come. We stay open and notice the lessons all around us; nature, our practice, and the people we meet along the way all have infinite teachings for those of us willing to pay attention.
I sense the person next to me. He smiles and leans in to give me a hug. “Good to see you. How have you been?” Some people offer “how ya doings” like a hello, while rolling up mats and turning phones back on, but his watchful wait says he genuinely wants to know how I am. Energy is real, people.
I take a quick inventory of my raw-ass self. Then him.
I only know your first name, a few anecdotes shared in a workshop…but once after class you held a brown paper bag out and offered me tomatoes from your garden. So I know you.
Blame the hip openers if you want. I am a believer that we store emotions, maybe not in the hips, but somewhere in the body. Phantoms of our experiences so to speak. (Read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk if you want to know more.)
For whatever reason, the words welling up found a path of no resistance, and came spilling out: “My dad just died a few hours ago.”
He hugs me, and the floodgates open.