You know that moment when you can’t suppress your emotions any longer. When you are the one that is looked to to be strong and consequently it appears you have little emotion. The emotion is there. It is just guarded and protected. Then, without warning, one person looks deeply into your eyes and says, “how are you?” You are forever thankful that they asked. It is like being given permission to ask yourself, “how am I?” I guess I am alright. Or not. What have I been holding on to?
This week, some news came that left me in disbelief. A dear woman who passed through my life, perhaps to teach me something, will no longer be in my physical life. She came to me for training and to practice Pilates. She came faithfully every week and left her mark on me, and it turns out, on many others too. She didn’t have to try. She simply was. She was extremely humble, and pure and sweet. She always had a smile and came in to learn something and to do her best. Her presence was peaceful and comfortable and fulfilling.
Sean, my husband called me from a trip he was on and said, “you know Ashley, from class, she passed away today.” I had to repeat it several times, and kept asking, Ashley? from Pilates? No. No. It couldn’t be. She was young. Pregnant with her first child, 24 weeks pregnant. She was just in class. I can remember exactly where she was (it was her spot). Ashley always stopped at the front desk where Sean got to know her. I recall watching Quintin, who works with us, and was always super attentive to Ashley, getting her a piece of equipment to help her practice as her pregnancy progressed, talking to her. Her death was sudden and unexpected. I knew it hit me in a way I couldn’t explain. At first I was frustrated with myself for not recalling more of her story. I had spent time in a training session with her when she found out she was pregnant and she told me her background and all about herself. But I could not recall the details. Why not? I hear a lot of people’s stories, and while I can hang on to the broad scope of their lives, my mind does not keep all the pieces. Perhaps out of necessity. I don’t need to know everything, just what might pertain to me being able to help them for the reasons they are coming to me for. I decided I either need to work harder at recalling details, or I need to be okay in letting go and being more with the person than the story.
As the weekend went on, I only cried when I received notes asking me if I was okay and offering me hugs as the news of her death spread. We found out her baby boy, Lennon, was alive, and again I did not know how to feel. It was a miracle. I told my daughter about her and her baby and her husband who lost his wife and became a dad sooner perhaps, and under different circumstances than he ever could have imagined. I felt full of thoughts and yet, strangely empty of emotions. All I could think was how fleeting and precious life is and that none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow.
Tonight in a class I teach called Jungshin (which means “focused mind”) I found my emotions, or at least became able to articulate them. The other night in our Pilates class with Ashley’s empty space in the room, I began the class somewhat shaky knowing that I would have to get us all through our practice with a depth of sadness enveloping us, but I could not release into the emotions since I had to teach. It reminded me of the first time I taught a class after my father had died. I know that I can rise to the occasion, but it is hard to keep myself from feeling.
I was not sure how I was going to handle our Monday night Pilates class. I knew my instinct would tell me. I found ways for us to reflect, to laugh, and to cry, and most importantly to open our hearts. It turned out to be truly beautiful ~we shared a relaxation and an appreciation for the gift of life and our encounters with each other. We left a flower on Ashley’s spot (which was marked by the “edge” that she used as her pregnancy progressed) and everyone stayed to be there for each other and to remember. Last night as my cycling class ended at 7pm, I invited everyone to take some time in quiet to offer prayers if they chose to with a group of thousands of people worldwide who have joined to pray.
But it wasn’t until tonight when a very dear and special client looked me in the eye and asked me how I was that I realized I was ready to feel. What came out was a Jungshin class where we sweat and feel deeply and move our bodies in the most authentic of ways in connection with the universe and nature. It always evokes feelings like no other class can do and we always end with a meditation. I never know where it will lead me, but tonight I found myself with so many thoughts on my mind. We learned today that Ashley’s baby joined his sweet mother in heaven. It comforted me to know that she had him with her, and that his father had some precious time with him, even if only briefly, but the sadness became tenfold. To calm the thoughts that didn’t seem to have a place in the body, I invited us during the meditation to go to the space between the thoughts. To sink into the vast universe that is within us. To travel inside of ourselves to the lights that guide us, tonight it was a star in the black sky above us. The star was one we knew, we gravitated toward it like an old friend, a family member. That star offered us light, and then warmth, and finally, comfort and the knowledge that we are a cherished piece of something greater than any of us could ever be alone. A part of something. And then I felt the ground underneath me and reminded us that to feel is a gift. We were leaving our marks on the ground, in the earth, and with each other. We shared each other’s energy in the room as our senses are particularly heightened after a class like Jungshin and then I reminded us all to think about the mark we are leaving on this world. And to make sure that we speak to everyone from our acquaintances to our co-workers, to our family of our gratitude and love everyday.
Ashley, without ever knowing it left her mark. Simply by being. My brief encounter with her will forever be with me. Who will you leave your mark on and how will you be remembered?
I promised my client who looked deeply into me tonight and asked me how I was, that I would soon be with my emotions. Thank you to Ericka for asking. Thank you to Quintin who is a young man seeing the world through new eyes and a different perspective. Thank you to Sean, my husband, who is the best at getting to know everybody and always leaving his friendly mark. Thank you to my Pilates class for being open to the very special bond we share, and to my cycling class and Jungshin class for letting me discover what it is I am trying to say . It is when I teach that I learn and hear myself saying things I did not know I had in me. Usually I cannot remember what I said, but this week has been different. Thank you to Ashley for your trust and our time together, and to her husband Chris for sharing her with us. To our Father in Heaven for giving their son Lennon to his father to hold. To her mother whom my heart aches for and to a friend of theirs, Carolyn Trace, who created a place called Joining Hearts and Prayers online for us to stay connected.