Last week, I arrived at Satish and Danta's house right after sunrise. It was unusually quiet, so their mom, Nidhi, suggested I go upstairs to wake them. I found Danta still curled up in bed swimming up from sleep, but Satish was already getting ready for school.
Smoothing Danta's hair from his forehead and kissing his warm, salty skin, I whispered, "Good morning, pal. Glad to see you today."
"Hmm mmm," he smiled.
Neither of the boys said anything more...which is not unusual, so I went downstairs while they got dressed. Over a peaceful breakfast, I kept the boys company since Nidhi needed to drive their sisters to school. Danta read a Geronimo Stilton novel as Satish slurped up Chex Mix and milk.
"How much time do we have until you take us to school?" Danta asked, looking up from his book.
"Oh, about fifteen minutes," I replied.
He glanced at the clock on the stove. "I'd say it's closer to thirteen minutes and thirty seconds."
Laughing, I nodded. "Whatever you say, pal."
While he continued reading, Satish and I started a quick game of chess. Always the strategist, Satish stealthfully played his signature moves while I hung on by the seat of my pants.
No words passed between us as the plot thickened.
All at once, Satish placed his queen in the square next to my king. "Check mate," he grinned.
"Maybe not," I quipped. "Dude, the king can move when he's in check and now I've got your queen!"
"Oh, no!" Satish moaned.
"Boy, you're not awake yet," I laughed. "Usually you clean my clock, but I may just have a chance right now."
Danta came over and sat close by, eyeing me every once in while in case I didn't see a particularly covert move I could make. The mental telepathy between us has been honed over six years of play dates, books, puzzles, games, and sports, so it was effortless to know exactly what he was thinking. The game ended up being a draw as it was time for school, but neither Satish and I minded, for we both knew that even though the game lasted only a short while, it was time well-spent.
Moments later, on the mostly silent ride to school, the boys smiled at me in the rear-view mirror. I smiled back, relishing the peaceful, quality time we share on the occasional Tuesday morning. When I told Nidhi how quiet Satish and Danta had been, she said the boys are so comfortable with me, they don't feel as though they need to talk.
"You're like family, Katie," she said. "So they can just be themselves."
I'm looking forward to even more precious moments on the way to West Side in which silence is golden.
For the next couple of months, my long-term yoga students and I are going on a journey into silence as well. We've been actively preparing for it since last Thanksgiving, and if yesterday's classes are any indication, it's going to be an enchanting ride. Over time, I'll gradually let go of verbal instruction and simply demonstrate poses and flowing movements. Before they know it, my lovely ladies will allow their own experience to guide the practice, discovering the miracles that lay in wait for them to discover.
In opening up my home for my students, I've gotten pretty good at holding space, allowing them a quiet haven in which they can be who they are and unwind whatever's happening in the moment. This afternoon I sent a quick message to a dear friend I've known since high school. Angie wrote back: I need to come and stay with you for a month. I feel like you are my place of peace.
Angie can't know how much that means to me, for last month rocked my center so often, I felt as though I'd been living on the San Andreas Fault. Still, spending time in meditation, in practicing what my friend, Tony, calls soft eyes, I've been able to re-enter that place of inner peace more fully. And if all else fails, I head up to the yoga studio where I can simply soak in the love.
At the beginning and end of every session, we practice savasana, which literally means "corpse pose". Lying down and letting go of the day, the week, the month, or even the year behind us allows the body to be more fully present in the experience. It takes a while to develop the ability to consciously relax, so I often remind my students that every single time we go into that space, all the other times we've been there come along for the ride.
Sometimes they like me to talk them through the process, but many times they prefer silence, so I simply say, "Go deep within where you can be who you are and be at peace...I'll see you on the other side."
I was thinking of my first Hospice client, Daniel, this morning while I was preparing to write this blog. In the spring of 2000, he was dying of AIDS and I was blessed to be his volunteer support while he lived at David's House. For the first few weeks, I only visited him on Tuesday mornings for a couple of hours when I helped Daniel get dressed and move slowly down the stairs. He ate breakfast while I sat and listened to him weave the stories of his life into a rich tapestry of mayhem, tragedy, and hope.
Eventually I visited Daniel twice, sometimes even three times a week. We sat at the dining room table sipping tea and reading the paper like an old, but odd married couple. Daniel did the Word Jumble while I perused the classifieds for free kittens.
“Will you come to the Hospice Center if I have to go there someday?” Daniel asked.
I looked at him and smiled. “Of course.”
He sighed. “I’m thinking that day might come pretty soon.”
I reached over and held his hand. “I’ll be there.”
For the next month I learned about thrush and bedsores, the cancerous-like growths that blotted Daniel’s skin. I learned how to bathe him and change his clothes without making him feel ashamed, how to help him endure the last chapter of his life with dignity. Most of the time, I simply sat with him and listened. Observed. Actively and compassionately participated in his ongoing care.
Eventually he was transported to the Hospice Center during the last week of his life and whenever I wasn’t teaching, I sat by his side as I had promised him. Daniel slept most of the time, but when he was awake, we would talk. He did the Word Jumble, with me circling the letters because his gnarled hands could no longer hold a pen. As I covered him with the afghan I had knitted, he fingered the fringe telling me, “Nice touch…I told you it would look nice.”
When I kissed him good-bye, Daniel told me, “You’ll sleep for a week after I’m gone."
“You can always visit me in a dream,” I replied. “I’m a little psychic that way.”
“Who knew?” he said mockingly since we had had countless conversations about our ever-evolving spirituality.
On a bright morning a few days later, I met his twin brother in the lobby. “It’s time,” I told him. “Everyone’s left…all his friends. He wants you to be with him.”
Donald nodded. “We were together at birth.”
“Now you can be with him when he rebirths himself,” I said, hugging him close.
That afternoon Daniel died while I slept on the floor of my yoga room. He came to me in a dream, his eyes bright, his voice loud and joyful.
“What’s it like?” I asked him.
He raised his arms overhead. “I’m amazed!” he beamed. “I’m amazed!”
And it's been an amazing experience all these years later to think back on that time, remembering a man who became a dear friend and taught me how to let go of my fear of death and whatever comes afterward.
Last week, my friend, Paula, and I were talking about life's greatest challenges when she said to me, "If I were really sick and knew I was dying, I wouldn't want my family with me...I'd want you."
Tears filled my eyes. "Why is that?"
"Because you'd make me feel safe so I wouldn't be scared," Paula said. "You're the only person I know who isn't afraid to die. You know how some people are midwives for babies being born? You're like a midwife for someone who's dying."
“I’ve been with babies when they’re been born and people when they die," I replied. "It’s a similar path…a similar process. And I've faced my own mortality a time or two.”
"Yeah," Paula nodded. "I know you'd be able to just be with me and let me go when I was ready."
"I think that's the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me," I smiled. "I suppose every time I practice savasana, I've been teaching myself how to let go, too. It's really a peaceful thing when you think about it."
"Mmm hmm," Paula said. "So will you be there when I need you?"
"Of course," I said, wiping my tears. "Where else would I be than sitting next to you, holding your hand. And even though we've always had plenty to talk about, I'm sure no words would be necessary other than, I'll see you on the other side.”