politics, yoga

dissent is patriotic

Time flies. It has now been two and a half years. According her doctors, my sister should have already died from the breast cancer that, after radiation, a double mastectomy, and five years of clean tests, metastasized throughout her body.  In their professional opinion, even with aggressive chemotherapy, Leah only had three months left.

When I came to visit a few weeks after the big news, I stayed with my parents. My mom had been unable to stop crying since the diagnosis. “But she worked so hard,” she kept repeating, as if a productive career was protection from this fate. Meanwhile, my dad praised Leah’s toughness – “She hasn’t shed a tear.”

I found both of their responses baffling, but that’s par for the course. Literally. The only things my dad cares about are golf and real estate. At least, that’s the conclusion one would arrive at based on any and all conversations with him. On our last visit, my husband had run a little experiment by telling my dad something about me or us, and then observing how quickly my dad turned the conversation back to himself. After an entire dinner of this (my dad never clued in, or allowed the conversation to proceed in a direction that did not center upon him), I could only laugh, and cry. My husband told me, “It makes perfect sense. You grew up not believing you mattered because he only talks about himself.”

But on this trip, I was alone. My parents were obviously suffering. I hadn’t seen Leah yet, but we got a call that her husband had just taken her back to the hospital. Many things were bungled during her last operation, so now she had a punctured lung on top of everything else. A port used to drain excess lymph kept getting infected. Cancer and chemo were competing so see which could cause the most suffering.

Holding the phone between them so they could both hear Leah’s husband give the latest details on Leah’s misery, my mom listed like the Tower of Pisa. Her legs were still holding her up, but her upper body seemed like it was ready to give up and concede defeat to gravity. After hanging up the phone, my parents went downstairs to watch the news. Soon, I heard their voices rise.

“Just put it on the towel bar.”

“We don’t have a towel bar. I wanted a towel bar, but you said there wasn’t room.”

“So put it on the towel hook, then.”

“The towels never dry on the hook. They stay wet. We need a towel bar.”

“Goddamnit, Janet, there isn’t room for a towel bar!”

I had not flown a thousand miles to spend the last days of my sister’s life arguing about a towel rack. I went downstairs and insisted my parents stop. “This isn’t about the towel rack. Stop. Arguing.”

Mom blinked at me, tears running down her face. Dad continued yelling.

“You don’t know what I have to deal with! She has been pestering me about that towel rack for years! There isn’t room for a towel rack!”

“I know, Dad. I know she pushes your buttons, because she is hurting. You are hurting. Everyone is hurting. So stop. You need to stop. You’re making it worse.”

“How dare you come into my house and tell me what to do! You show up here at the last minute and pretend to know!” He gritted his teeth, narrowed his eyes, and pointed his finger in my face.  “I have known Leah since 1970. You don’t have any idea what it is like.”

Although beside the point, it is necessary to explain why he’d declare how long he’d know Leah as if he’d won a contest: Leah is not my father’s biological daughter. He married my mom when she was a divorcee raising four girls under age 12 on her own. Neither my older brother or I existed in 1970, so while I could feel the full force of his pain and anger, it blew right past me without drawing blood. His world, the angry world that confined my childhood, isn’t mine anymore.

He stormed off. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep much, and left early the next morning for yoga. Beginning my practice, I took note of my breath. Ragged. Shallow. Powerless.

It feels almost too stupid to say, it is so obvious, but it’s the truth. In a shaky down dog, breathing enough to live but not enough to thrive, I realize “I have control over this.”

This breath. My breath. I can work with this. Focusing only on making my breath even and smooth, I finished my practice stronger than when I started.

I made dinner for my parents that night. As we ate, my dad told me I was never to speak to him that way again. My voice was calm as I told him, no, I am a person with ideas of her own and I would continue to speak my mind.

Something was moving at the edge of my vision. Oh, it was my fork. My fork was shaking, because my hand was shaking, because as an adult woman I had to explain to my father that I have a right to speak my mind, even if it doesn’t please him.

Mom stared, wide eyed, lips trembling.

Today my yoga teacher told our class about the illnesses members of her family are facing, including her father, and encouraged us to keep practicing, even if she can’t find someone to fill in for her. To remember it is our practice, and to be grateful for the love in our lives, because we never know when our time might be up.

It was a moving talk. Inspiring. But I found myself feeling guilty afterwards. The dictator I’ve internalized would have me believe that I’m a failure for not conforming to the party line. That it is disloyal to put my needs, even the needs of my mother and other family members, ahead of the needs of my father’s delicate, raging ego.

That is fucking insane.

It’s funny how the truth evaporates guilt, and scary how the truth can be completely obscured by fear. Dissent is patriotic. Don’t forget it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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politics, yoga

I want to live in a democracy

I want to live in a democracy.

Resting in corpse pose after finishing my yoga practice, this is the thought that pops into my head. I’m angry about the election of The Donald, and all the evidence that suggests his leadership will prove more authoritarian and oligarchical than presidential. He hasn’t even taken office yet, but I’ve yet to see anything to reassure me that human rights, the environment, and more, aren’t under serious attack. Then, sarcasm:

Really?

Followed by a monologue on freedom, from myself to myself:

Because you don’t act like it.

You are letting the most fearful part of yourself – that one spot in your lower back – control your whole being. That’s not democracy. That’s terrorism.

I hate it when I’m right.

For the past year, I’ve been working on backbends – specifically drop-backs. Going from standing to wheel posture in a single breath, then standing back up.

But not really. My lower back is glitchy. Scoliosis, tight psoas, whatever. I stopped attempting the drop backs with my teacher’s help when my teacher started helping less. She has more confidence in my ability than I do. I really do not want to lift my heels off the ground, as suggested. My back seizes up when I feel afraid – which is what dropping back triggers for me. Lots and lots of fear. Plus, I know I can’t stand back up by myself.

At least I now know better than to get angry about my back pain (hilarious that I used to do that!). I decided to focus on building strength with the back-bending postures that didn’t trigger so much fear – and completely skip drop backs, assisted or not.

It worked. My back got stronger. But since I was unwittingly still operating under the “there’s something wrong with me” mindset, I was no closer to dropping back. What started as a real, valid concern (my back hurts and needs some TLC) had grown out of control. I didn’t even want to drop back. I was terrified, completely resistant, and jealous that everyone else (really?) could do this seemingly impossible action – even people whose backs didn’t appear to bend at all somehow managed it!

I want to live in a democracy.

Most of me wants to learn and grow. Most of me thinks that I am capable. But parts of me just want to be left alone. Parts of me still feel like ashamed little victims that lash out viciously when poked. Other parts are power-hungry dictators who overstep their bounds and lock up other parts in mental cages. So, it’s time to free the hostages. If I live in a democracy, I don’t have the luxury of imprisoning the innocent, scapegoating the immigrants, or blaming the victims in order to make my dictator of an ego feel okay with itself. I also can’t be mean to my ego, because she belongs here, too.

2017 is going to be an interesting year for my democracy – and ours. How about yours?

(It has been a few weeks since my “free the hostages!” epiphany, and I’ve started attempting drop backs again – assisted, although a few times my teacher has just stood there, hands off,  until she helps me back up. My breathing is calmer and my mind is steadier. It is becoming easier to believe that I can do this.)