“This preoccupation with what I think I see in the mirror threatens the joy in my practice, stuck as I am in my own selfish, torturous thoughts.
I took this picture in the Las Vegas airport. I’m leaving Las Vegas. This is always my favorite part of this trip, the leaving. Vegas is not my town. It reeks to me of booze and smoke and desperation and loss and betrayal. It’s my boulevard of broken dreams. I’m rushing to get to my gate, to get out of this godforsaken city, when I see them.
I don’t know much about the couple. They’re 80, or older perhaps. I make up a little story about them; mingle what I know with my story, with what I hope is true.
They are going back to Kona, where they got married, to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Their children paid for the trip, or maybe their grandchildren even. It is going to be their last big trip because, let’s face it, they’re not getting any younger, and she is getting too frail to travel. They are just as in love now as they were when they got married. Before children, before fights, before affairs, before whatever life did what it does to people. They are more in love now.
This is the story. Here’s what I actually know:
She loves chocolate; he left her holding her bag, which he told her not to let anyone touch, so he could buy her some chocolate.
They are going to Hawaii, to Kona. They are nervous that our flight is delayed and they might miss their connection.
He wears a hearing aid.
She uses a wheelchair, though maybe just at the airport, because she can walk.
He’s funny, or she thinks he is anyway; she laughed as he popped wheelies with the wheelchair, as he told stories to their new friends who were also going to Hawaii.
She laughs a lot.
They are married; to each other I hope though the rings they wear don’t guarantee that I guess.
They are in love.
I didn’t hear them speak of their love. But I saw the declarations of it as clearly as if they had spray-painted them across the floor in front of gate 55. It was there when he stroked her hair back from her face; when she closed her eyes and tilted her face towards his touch. It was there in her smile back at him as he leaned the wheelchair back onto two wheels, as he sped up and slowed down to her amusement. It was there in their clutched hands as they walked down the aisle to seats 10 C and 10 D. It was there in their gazes at each other when neither was talking, when there was nothing to be said.
It was love.
I’m sure of it. Okay so the details of the story I created were probably false. They don’t really matter anyway. The love was the same. But I needed the story.
Maybe in this story I was projecting the imagined fantasy that I wanted for my grandparents if they both could have lived that long, for my parents if they both could have loved that long. Maybe I was projecting what I want for me. Someone who will push my hair out of my face, who will pop a wheelie with my wheelchair. Someone who will gaze at me long after all the words have been said.
Instead I watch scenes of love as an observer. I sneak pictures and overhear pieces of conversations and make up stories. I choke back tears while I chose the perfect Instagram filter and write a caption that will accurately depict this scene. But the fact remains.
I’m on the outside, looking in. I always have been. I’ve said some I love yous. I’ve heard some I love yous. And still it’s never been quite right. It’s never FELT quite right. I’ve never known the dialogue, or gotten the notes on blocking that everyone else just seems to inherently know. I can watch the scenes over and over and over and never re-create them for myself.
I haven’t, in 35 years, experienced the kind of love that I saw in 35 minutes in the Vegas airport. It’s not for lack of wanting, or lack of trying, or lack of anything I understand that makes it this way. It just is.
This could be it for me, I think. This could be all it ever is.
But seeing this today, I wonder. Maybe, just maybe, it could be out there still, somewhere between Gates 55 and 58, or between Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, even between Las Vegas and Los Angeles; my very own scenes of love. Maybe the other scenes are here now, all around me, so I will recognize what they should look like when I am finally in the starring role.
Flight delayed, I’m back at that boulevard of broken dreams of Vegas, seeing the booze and the smoke and the desperation and the loss and even the betrayal. It’s all still there. But this time it’s a little different I think. This time I see the love too.
Scenes of love, at the airport, in Las Vegas. If I can find them here, I can probably find them anywhere. I can probably even find them for me.
On my second day of skiing in Aspen, I’m coasting easily down a green slope, practicing the subtle turns that keep my speed down, able to focus on the beauty of the landscape around me. I’m feeling good until I hit a steep connecting trail that is less groomed than the one I was previously on. Maintaining my speed becomes increasingly difficult, maintaining control even more so.
I’m not alone here. I see ahead on the hill a girl go down hard, her poles flying and one of her skis popping off. She stays down, sitting and looking around her as if she has no idea how she has gotten there. She looks lost and possibly scared.
I think about pulling up next to her, asking how she is, offering to get her pole for her. I consider assisting in getting her back into her skis. I want to help her. Instead, I hesitate. My fear gets the better of me, my thoughts rushing at me, faster and faster, gaining speed as I barrel down this hill.
“What if I try to stop to help her and I fall? What if I get hurt? What if I crash into her while I am trying to help? What if I make the situation worse?
What if I can’t do anything at all?”
Instead, I ski past. I know immediately it is not the right decision. I pause a distance below her, and from this vantage point I realize I have invoked that same mantra that I have used time and time again when the Universe throws me a curve ball that I refuse to hit, or to catch, or to even acknowledge:
Someone else will do it.
Someone else will invite the new person to join our lunch. Someone else will move to another seat on the plane so that the family can sit together. Someone else will shift their yoga mat to the side to accommodate the person who rushed in late. Someone else will help the lost elderly woman find her way home.
Someone else, someone else, someone else.
I look the other way.
I put my head down, pretend I cannot see what is going on as if this will somehow lessen my accountability. Making myself unavailable before I’m even asked for help. Before anyone can call upon me to act.
But I do see you struggling with your three children and your luggage and your strollers and your passports. I do see you trying to put on your skis without dropping your poles and your gloves but they keep falling down into the snow. I do see you cleaning up the hot coffee you spilled all over the table and floor in Starbucks, making three trips back up to the counter for more napkins to be able to mop up that venti coffee.
And yet I look away.
“Not me,” I seem to be saying. “Not my problem,” I intimate. “Not my responsibility,” I rationalize.
I’m wrong, of course. It is me, it is my problem and it IS my responsibility. To be present, to be mindful, to be helpful. To do something.
Because what if, one day, there is no someone else?
I was lucky with regard to my fallen comrade on the slopes. Someone else did risk falling to help her. Someone else did get her back on her feet, back into her skis. Someone else did care enough to stop. She was okay. But it doesn’t really let me off the hook, does it?
I want to be the someone.
So that is the new mantra that I need to repeat, over and over, until it happens without any hesitation, so that I can’t possibly ski on past: Do Something. That is my refrain: Do Something.
Drop your poles, spill your coffee, ask me to move, fall in my path.
This time, I will not look away.
I cried today.
I woke up too early. I called my dad. I went to work. I took conference calls and did a presentation for clients. I went to the grocery store. I skipped yoga. I packed for a ski trip.
And in between, I cried.
A beautiful little boy, I don’t actually know him, is slowly dying. I see his sweet face when I go on Facebook. His picture pops up in my newsfeed, sometimes in the form of people asking for prayers for him, sometimes as a profile pic. I can see his huge eyes, focused on something past the viewfinder of the camera. Focused on something we can’t see, that probably only he can, in spite of his blindness (or possibly because of it). The light that shines on him seems otherworldly.
I don’t know this baby and yet I cried for him today. I cried first for him, and then for everything else. For my mom and my grandfather, facing the anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing this week. For the 4 year old girl we dedicated yoga to last week in New Jersey, just diagnosed with brain cancer. For the one I never talk about, the one who would have been 23 this year, the one whose name I don’t say.
Sometimes it’s just too hard.
M was 2 when I met him during my freshman year of high school. He had a host of medical problems; it was apparent in the way he looked, in his development. I don’t know if I ever understood exactly what he was dealing with medically, or if I’m just not remembering now. But I knew it was serious.
The light that radiated off this kid was blinding. He was universally adored by anyone who spent time with him. If he said your name, you melted. You felt like a chosen one. He didn’t look like everyone else, and I think now, of course not. He was too special to look the same. He was the best of all of us.
He was my idol’s son. I can call her that, because I actually worshipped her. She was the one I put on a pedestal, the one whose opinion mattered most. If she asked, the answer was always yes. I believed my every success was due to her. When I was 17, and M was 5, she asked me to babysit for him over the summer. I knew this meant that I was special. The answer, of course, was yes.
We did a trial run or two, making sure I was strong enough to lift him, knew how to feed him and clean his trach after lunch. He was comfortable with me. She made a recording of him asking “Katie coming tomorrow?” the weekend before my first day.
I babysat once, on a Monday. That’s all I can remember, though maybe there were more times. We read books, we taped ourselves laughing, we wrote stories in a journal, we talked about Elmo and how silly Elmo was. He loved Elmo. He loved being silly. I repeated the same jokes over and over again until they were ours, just for us.
The next day he died.
His heart just slowed down and stopped beating in the bathroom that night. When his mother, my idol, called and woke me with the news the following morning, nothing made sense. My mom handed me the cordless phone and I knew, even in my sleepy haze, that something had happened. But not that.
The summer was a blur. The school year started again and it was all the same but everything was different. The ones who loved him were all different.
The distance happened after I left for college. Distance would have been natural anyway, as 1200 miles will do to people. I didn’t realize until after it happened that I had been written out of the end of this story. There would be no tearful reunions, no coffee dates to catch up after a semester away. There would be nothing, just an end; not even acknowledged, just observed.
I tried. I attempted to write myself back in. I begged really. Please don’t cut me out of your life. Please still love me. How could someone I loved as a mentor for 5 years just walk away? How could the person I picked up off the floor and propped up for a year of hell see through me as if I wasn’t even there?
What I didn’t know then was that I had been written out of the beginning of the story too. There could be no happy ending because I didn’t exist in the beginning anymore. I was simply erased from the record books, stripped of the medals earned loving this child and his mother. When I got a blank stare, it’s because she really didn’t see me anymore. I wasn’t there.
I don’t know if I will ever understand why my part was eliminated, why I got killed off like a character leaving the tv show before the end of the season, easily disposed. Maybe she thinks it is my fault. Maybe I do too. For 15 years I have wondered, and no answers ever materialize. I am resigned to this. As my friend would say, “And so it is.”
I stopped grieving back then. How could I grieve a little boy who I loved when it didn’t feel like I was allowed to have loved him anymore?
So I shut down.
I stopped visiting his grave, I stopped acknowledging the anniversary of his death, I stopped reaching out to my idol. I accepted this new story that was written.
I don’t anymore. I can’t write myself back into the end of this story, but I can claim my part in the beginning. It’s time.
Today I cry for Ronan, and pray for his family. I cry for my mom, and my grandfather, and that little girl in NJ.
And I cry for M. I loved you. I’ve never forgotten.
You will always be part of my story.
I’m sitting at what used to be my friend Ezra’s desk, in our New York office, when I first hear the news. When I learn about the “historic, crippling storm” that is moving into the Tri-State area. I don’t pay much attention initially. I don’t have to fly out today; my flight isn’t canceled; this won’t affect ME. But the buzz builds rapidly throughout the 10thfloor about this massive Nor’Easter, and I start to feel little flutters of anxiety rising in me, bubbling toward the surface like the carbonation coming up the straw in my Diet Coke.
What if I can’t go to yoga tomorrow?
What if I can’t buy my stepfather’s birthday gift?
What if I can’t go to Hoboken to see my godson?
What if I have to miss my friend Sonia’s workshop?
What if my flight IS canceled?
What if I get stuck in NJ?
What if it all changes?
I don’t do well with change.
My trip is so carefully crafted, every minute efficiently and effectively planned by the good little Type-A that I am. There is no margin of error. There is no room for late arrivals or backups on the runway. The timetable is set. This is how I operate. Yet in the span of a few hours, it seems to all fall away, evaporating before the first snowflake has even formed.
By the time we get the emergency text alert from the weather service—“Prepare. Avoid Travel. Check media.”—I’m free-falling in a downward spiral of my own pity.
Nothing in my life goes right. The mailroom can’t find my package. My mom is upset. My friend is stranded overseas. My car service is an hour late. My grandfather is annoyed. My sister is crying. I say something thoughtless to my boss. It takes forever to get home. Woe is me, woe is me.
I am officially in a funk.
This is dangerous territory. I don’t emerge easily. I can lose an hour, a day, a weekend to the funk. It grabs hold of me, wraps its arms tightly all the way around me, and suffocates me until I surrender to it completely. I always end up here.
Somewhere in the middle of this free fall, I stumble upon my lovely friend Sara’s blog post from earlier in the day, the one titled “Suffering is a Choice”.
Don’t you hate when you are deep in the throes of your pity party and someone more enlightened than you tells you that you are choosing to suffer? She’s right of course, but I don’t want to listen. I don’t want wisdom. I don’t want enlightenment. I want to crawl into my hole and stew in my crap until I don’t want to anymore.
Except…something in her writing permeates deeper than the funk has. Something sticks.
I actually DON’T want to feel like this. I don’t want to wallow. I don’t want to let my day, or my weekend or one more minute be ruined by this mood.
My mom can still be upset. My grandfather can still be annoyed. My sister can still be crying. But maybe I can be different. Maybe I can be the one who changes, in the middle of everything I can’t change.
This is unfamiliar territory. I don’t know where to start so I just start.
I try meditating (this feels stupid)
I make a joy list (well, I don’t really because I’m too annoyed to write anything)
I make a joke (not really that funny unfortunately)
I make cookies (oh, this helps)
I read (this helps more)
I listen to music (ok, getting there)
And slowly…it lifts. It releases. It burns off like the early morning Santa Monica smog that I am almost accustomed to waking to. When you can’t see through it, and you think it will always be there and you will never have a sunny day again…it lifts.
Earlier in the night, I texted my friend: “Who can I pass this bad mood along to?” She would understand; it got her this week too. I thought maybe she passed it to me, and I would pass it on to the next person, like that crazy flu that everyone is just passing around.
I’m done with it. I’m passing it along. If you want it, it’s yours. You get to choose. You always get to choose.
It’s always your choice.