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It’s been four years since my mom passed away, and I thought I was getting the hang of it all, of moving through loss, accepting absence, and learning how to replace empty space with gratefulness.
My Orthodox Christian faith and avid practice of yoga both underscore the power and opportunity we are offered through challenge and silence, through the sometimes painful situations we may not choose for ourselves. And I truly have found ways to be thankful for the exquisite lessons that are born out of pain. But I’m not going to lie—the holidays were harder this season.
Layers of years of loss and change and disease and death have taken their toll. But we all have our stories, and we all have opportunities to choose to move forward. Sharpened and shaped by the courage to rise from ruin, we as human beings have endless abilities to move ahead in spite of heartache.
So we smile and breathe and find a way to make it all work.
But this morning I woke up completely disoriented. I didn’t know what day it was or if I was supposed to be at work. I was trying to figure out if I overslept and was finally relieved when I realized it was Saturday.
Exhausted by the ongoing pulse of the holiday season and the jarring shift back into the workweek, I had gone to bed early last night in preparation for Church this morning. It would be a celebration of Holy Theophany, Epiphany, the Feast of Lights, marking the day that my mother left this world and moved on to the next. And it was always Mom’s favorite day on the Orthodox calendar, the 12th day of Christmas when Christ was baptized in the Jordan and the Holy Trinity was made manifest here on earth.
I got up, got dressed, and threaded Mom’s gold hoops through my ears. I left the house a few minutes later than my wonderful husband and arrived at the service 15 minutes late, which is not bad for a Greek American. (So much for New Year’s resolutions.)
I sat with Dad in the front row, taking in his beautiful chanting and the sunlight as it sparkled through the stained glass of the sanctuary. I consumed Communion, drank Blessed water, and prepared to move through the rest of my day.
Dad bought me a cup of coffee at Mom’s favorite spot, and I met a friend at the Hunter Museum to make plans for a yoga class I am teaching at the space in February. I was tasked with choosing the work of art to inspire the upcoming practice and was looking for a piece that could be interpreted through conversation and movement.
We strolled slowly through the galleries, browsing past scores of beautiful paintings. And I wrestled with the pressure of making a decision. I wanted to find an image that could translate seamlessly into a simple, elegant practice, one inspired by love and seasoned with all of the experiences that make our life stories unique. I breezed by an abstract composition of clean white and beige, and considered a scene of commuters passing one another in the dusty confines of a subway.
I toyed with the idea of two photographs depicting hands outstretched in a sea of navy blue, and considered a Jackson Pollock-inspired crimson canvas. But I kept coming back to that clean, crisp rendering of white and tan shapes—elegant, empty, and filled with promise that can be found only in the midst of true silence.
I took a picture, hugged my friend, and moved through the motions of another Epiphany without my Mom. I went to see my favorite manicurists in town and had my nails painted red, adorning my fingertips in Mom’s signature color.
I rushed home, changed clothes, and dashed to the yoga studio where I teach on Saturday afternoons, energized by the cold, crisp air of the day.
I pulled into the parking lot, walked quickly up the stairs, and was welcomed by a group of wonderful women chatting excitedly with one another and waiting patiently for me to unlock the studio door. I signed existing students in on the computer and passed out waivers to new class members. I hooked my phone up to the stereo, dialed in to my post-Christmas, yet still winter-themed playlist, and tried to figure out why the heating system was beyond my control.
I took a deep breath, laughed it off, and thanked my students for practicing with me in spite of the temperamental thermostat. We settled in, prepared to begin. And then the static started to echo, resounding throughout the room and mocking my efforts to create a healing place of peace.
So I opted for silence. Instead, a favorite quote from Saint Paul would set the tone of the class.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your thinking.”—Romans 12:2
It’s a phrase that has guided and consoled me during the past several weeks, reminding me that life rarely looks like what we expect. Yet we are challenged to embrace it anyway. And that in itself has become a pattern of my own.
Push through the pain. Put on a brave face. Take action when necessary, and let go when the time is right. But I was having trouble putting my own words into practice.
“Can you let go of any expectations of what this class would look and sound like today?” I asked my students. “Instead, let your breathing guide your movements, finding transformation in the renewal of this mindful approach to your practice.”
But all I could think about was why the stereo wasn’t working, and wouldn’t it be easier if my music was supplementing my words, soothing my students?
And then I started to understand, to experience an epiphany of my own.
“I’m talking you all through this meditative experience, and all I can think about is why the stereo is not cooperating,” I said, laughing at the irony of the situation. “The joke’s on me.”
That was the moment when I truly began to connect with my class on a day when I was doing all I could to avoid real connection, or lack thereof, of any situation that would remind me of the mother I had lost.
During the next 45 minutes, I guided the class through a set of restorative sequences and allowed myself to feel healed by the students that had become my teachers and the scenario that God had designed.
“We are all forced into silence and stillness throughout our lives,” I heard myself say as the practice drew to a close. “How can we move through those moments with grace and gratefulness, not conforming to the pattern of expectation, but being transformed by the renewal of our thoughts?”
After class, everyone voiced appreciation for an hour of silence, time to tune out the noise of the world and go inward. It was a gift that we all needed, and it was one I may not have chosen on this particular day.
“Laugh at life,” my mom used to say, radiant and joyful in spite of the disease that was her constant companion for years. “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!”
This morning during the service at Church, I was captured by the Prayer by Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem.
“Today those above celebrate with those below, and those below converse with those above.”
Today, on the anniversary of her passing, my mother, in communion with Christ, chose to speak to me through silence. And I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect gift. Memory eternal, Μανούλα Μου. I love you so much.
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