I've said a lot of goodbyes this year. I said farewell to my first New York yoga studio, to beloved students, my home, foster pets, therapists. To old habits, stale life views, my childhood kitty (RIP Gus). Said goodbye to ideas, dreams, my story, our story. I said goodbye to relationships, people moving away, moving on, moving forward. And sometimes the goodbyes were simple and easy and even welcome, and other times the world felt like it was ending and I resisted the fall which only heightened the impact.
The story behind my year of goodbyes begins where it ends. Last week I had to say another goodbye and it may not be the last of 2016 but it was a significant one. I don't know what to call Melissa. Friend. No. I never earned such a distinguished title. She's no stranger either. Honestly, I only knew Melissa from the handful of times we chatted after kirtans at Ayurveda's World. But she changed my world. You just don't realize the impact one person can have on another human being's life. So pay attention.
Let me paint Melissa for you because no photograph will do her justice and if you never met her flesh to flesh, I'm sorry you won't get to in this carnation:
G O D D E S S. She's tall, fiery, curly red hair, bright eyes and big smiles. She is more than her physical body. She is light, laughter, courage, and truth and she beams all that energy at you when you're in her presence. That's what I picture and that's how I remember her last February the last time I saw Melissa at Ayurveda's World, happy, healthy, glowing and as friendly and fiercely honest as ever.
We were sharing stories about our previous week in Big Sur. Coincidentally, we had been there at the same time. She was on vacation, I was healing from a head wound and heartache. The evening we reconnected I was depressed. And I thought I was masking my sadness pretty well with my California sun tan, toothy grin, and some overly jovial chanting. She saw right through my sheepish facade.
"Are you lonely? You should move back to California," she opened our conversation this way. I was caught off guard and bullshitted my way back to my comfort zone, explaining that the amazing week of healing I'd had in sunny California at the Esalen Institute in contrast to noisy New York grittiness in the dead of winter had been a challenging transition. She didn't buy it: "You should go be where your safety net is."
Yeah I don't have a safety net here; I told her about my brush with death in a bike crash the month before and how short life is and agreed that it's important to have community. She listened quietly and then rattled out the most potent truth to me in those next seconds. Her words shook me more than a bump on the head and fifteen years of practice have ever shook me:
"I don't know what I would have done with out my safety net. You should go home and be near yours. Last month I woke up and found a lump on my breast and was given one month to live. It's important to have your tribe when that happens. A few days ago I was feeling sorry for myself about my situation. I started sobbing and my friend took me by the shoulders, 'Is this how you're going to spend your final days?'' I burst out laughing, No! Maybe you don't need to go home to family, Kathryn, but I could see and hear how unhappy you were sitting up there, and I can tell you this, when tomorrow isn't promised, you don't waste another second of your life wallowing in despair."
I wept that whole night and into the next day. Her body was shutting off but her spirit was aflame. And she gave me a gift, helping me to see that my soul was dying, and if I didn't take serious action in my life, I was as good as dead. And so the very next day I made the hardest decision of my life and the course of my life changed forever. And the months after were harder. And I found my safety net at home in California AND in my incredible New York community. I have more than Melissa to thank. So many of you from my community saved me this year when I was struggling even just by showing up to practice yoga with me.
Some goodbyes have been more poignant than others. Oddly some of the the hardest pals to say goodbye to this year were Pain, Suffering, and Confusion. They'd been allies for so long I didn't know how to live without them. But since Melissa we have parted ways. When I finally chose life, they stopped calling. I started living with my heart instead of my head. Life is one grand adventure when you allow your heart to navigate. Therein lies the secret to embracing difficult goodbyes. Because every grand adventure begins with a goodbye. Around every corner is hope, a new friend, a song, a hello.
I think of Melissa every day, for showing me what living looks like, for helping me remember my way home to my heart. Dear Melissa transitioned last week after a ten month battle with cancer. But her message vibrates in every cell of my being. Tomorrow is never promised for any of us. So, Live. Live. Live.
Final thoughts for the season: Tell someone you love them. Call your mother or father if you can. Smile at a stranger. Take a risk. Be safe. Get witchy this weekend. And Please! Vote with your heart in November.
Thank you, I love you,