Last week I said good-bye to one of my greatest teachers. For him the move is a good change and for me, I will have an empty space in my heart and in my Yoga class at the Lodge.
The young man attended every single Yoga class at the brain injury facility where I teach. Week after week he showed up–sometimes in his wheelchair and sometimes he opted to sit in a dining chair. He had developed a beautiful practice that became as unique as he is. Slow movements that took all his attention and power, partnered with a developing breath awareness. A beauty to watch.
The presence he has is so hard to capture in words. Our paths crossing made me a better person and a better teacher. He has me taught me determination and amazing courage. Despite his devastating life circumstance, his laughter and joy was radiant.
There are countless moments of inspiration that we shared. The time I walked into the space where we practiced Yoga to see a giant pile of what appeared to be dog poo. His laughter and excitement for my reaction to this prank was pure joy. Always the jokester and one to make me smile, he loved to bring laughter to the class. His memory of events, birthdays and personal stories brought the class members together. He was the keeper of the activities within the Lodge.
One evening while I was offering another client to try a standing pose I heard his voice behind me say he would like to try. Hiding my uncertainty and surprise I turned and faced him. I held his hands, asked him to look up at me and in one giant inhale, he stood. Although my strength was mostly supporting him, he was standing. We looked into each others eyes and both smiled and cried at once.
Each class we spend a few minutes repeating positive affirmations. Things like “I am amazing”, “I am perfect and whole”, “I am worth it”. My friend rarely said these things, instead he opted to say he was broken, or even bad. Over time these words shifted to “maybe I am awesome”. The last few classes he chose to not say anything. Two and half years of weekly affirmations was beginning to make a shift in his self-concept.
The ending of our Yoga practice is usually the same. A Rumi quote: The beauty you see in me, is a reflection of you. One evening he was particularly sad and withdrawn, he kept saying he was bad. I knelt before him and asked if I too was “bad”. He said, “no way, you are good”. I insisted that if he saw the goodness in me, it was because it exists in him. He looked way and said nothing.
I went to say goodbye to him the day before he was being transferred to a facility in another city. I knew that this would be an emotional goodbye for me because I feel that we are soul-friends. Beyond client-teacher, we have developed a deeper sense of mutual trust and respect. I see who he is. I distracted my sadness by bringing him cookies and card. I wanted to come with joy for his new adventure and not have sadness as my external emotion. I entered his room to find him surrounded by boxes and a few treasured items. I watched as he methodically used his weak hands to open the card I brought him. Tears stinging my eyes for the smallest task is so hard. The visit was short, yet meaningful. We spent time laughing, taking silly pictures together and talking about how awesome he is. It was a visit I will hold in my heart for a long time.
As I was leaving, I stopped in his doorway and turned back. Hunched over in his wheelchair. He pointed at me. He paused. He said, “Stacie, you are reflection of me……you know, like a mirror”.