It was my seventh Bikram Yoga class. The room was heated to 105 degrees and we were about to go into “camel pose,” standing tall on the knees and bending back at the hips. “Open your chest,” I heard the instructor say. During each of the six previous classes, as sweat dripped from my body, I became nauseated when we reached camel pose. My only tactic to avoid throwing up on my neighbor’s mat was to lie down in “savasana.” But during my seventh class, as I stood tall on my knees and attempted to bend back at the hips and open my chest, there was no nausea. Instead, there was a feeling of grief that was so fierce, so piercing, all I could do was turn around and lie on my back once again. I began to sob. I wanted to scream his name, “JAY!” But I didn’t. I just wiped my nose, my tears and my sweat on my towel.
I was startled by my reaction. It’s been five years since my husband died. I have “processed” through $15,000 worth of therapy, two master’s degrees in creative writing, countless women’s retreats. I’ve taken my raw emotion and expressed it, intellectualized it and spoken it into a microphone. But my body was saying there’s more.
A few days earlier I had watched my youngest child graduate from high school. During the course of the 4.5 hour graduation ceremony, in the sweltering heat, I felt an almost alchemical shift, as though the gradual passage from being the mother of a snugly little girl to being the mother of a brilliant young woman occurred in an instant. I caught my breath as she made her speech, got her diploma.
Camel pose, my face wet, my heart racing. I knew what the new wave of grief was–it was fear. I was afraid to bend back. Bending back meant surrendering to something new, something unknown. Bending back meant letting go.
I’ll be leaving Vermont and moving across the ocean five days after I put my youngest child on a plane to go to college. I don’t love Vermont, but Vermont is the keeper of my memories: violin lessons down dirt roads, soccer games in the cold autumn rain, being swept into the air at contra dances in bare feet, driving trucks on icy roads, making maple candy in March snow. I’ll be leaving behind no house, no furniture, no boxes–just memories of love and lost love and more love and more lost love.
Every day in class I try to bend back a little bit more. My changing middle-aged body is sore, but the muscles in my back are becoming strong. They really are. I can take it. I can do it. I raised my children. I took care of my husband. I’ve been present. I’ve been loving. I’ve been strong. I can do it. I can show up, I can sweat. I can push myself and open myself. I can surrender. I can let go.
Cross your fingers.