I can feel it starting to happen again -- the darkening of the morning, the falling of tiny leaves, the browning of plant matter: everywhere I look I see that life is starting to pull away from us again, that the end of a season is here.
This week I sat in my first yoga studio on her dying day as a participant in the final class of her life. As I settled into meditation, I saw all of the former versions of Erin like shadows walking in and out of that space, tears pooling in my eyes and rolling down my face as I reflected on all of the gifts that she gave me, especially during the peak of my depression when I was coming 2-3x per week. With each practice, my downy wings strengthened and I’d venture out into the world to try flying on my own, always knowing she was there, ready to be a landing pad when it got too hard.
As I got more and more comfortable in my own skin, I needed the studio less and less. I met my husband and we moved out of the city to start a new life in the country together, no longer dependent on the studio's life support. But when I got word of the diagnosis, that this was the end, I knew I had to make it to say my goodbyes and thank her before she left us. As I lay in savasana, my teacher reminded me that what was happening to her is simply a part of the natural paradigm: that all things, whether we’d like to admit it or not, will end and crumble. "This, students, is how it works: the seedling of an idea, the bearing of great fruit, and the end of a cycle."
But because I live in a world of stainless steel, organ transplants, and lifetime warranties I’d rather trick myself into believing that somehow this “all things go” concept doesn’t apply to me -- that I can say “ummm, yes to everything except to that part, God, please and thank you.” But lately, everywhere I look I can see traces of endings and somehow feel God saying “sorry, kid, this applies to you, too.”
In one week’s time I will head to Uganda for the third time, representing the international outreach program at our church. I used to get excited for these trips, for the adorable pictures I’d get of me and innocent little African kids, for the interesting stories that I would tell, for all the attention and adoration that I’d get for *saving the world.* But three trips in is enough to kick my foolish ego shit to the curb, enough to teach me that dropping down into a post-war world living in third world poverty is not a photo-op or a silly game or something to brag about.
The cliche is true: that *mission work* rattles and shakes and transforms the giver more than anyone. For me, the greatest transformation happened as I sat with people who are well aware of the death paradigm, witnessing the dying of crops to drought, the dying of a culture to war, the dying of their children to slavery, and -- shocker of all shockers -- continue to believe in Go(o)d. And not just a “check-the-Sunday-box-get-your-cookie-and-leave” kind of Go(o)d, but a Living One that gets them up in the morning because they know that from ashes something better will always rise, that death isn’t the end, but the beginning of God’s plan for something else.
But in my steel and plastic westernized mind, I’ve learned that endings are to be avoided at all costs, that every wound needs my immediate fixing, that seeing destruction means that I have to stop it, at whatever cost, and however I am able, that it's both my job and responsibility to play God and *save the world* all by myself.
When I landed there five years ago, the hardest part for me was seeing the masses of orphaned children. It was like walking into the ER, witnessing a big huge artery, wide open, bleeding all over the room. And so, true to my nature, I grabbed the first band-aid in sight, believing that I could stop the blood from escaping all by myself. But what I’m learning is that with a wound as big as orphaned children suffocating from PTSD, you’re gonna need a lot more than little Erin hands - you’re gonna need about ten more doctors, an industrial sized band-aide, and a healthy immune system to heal something like that.
When Shawn, my husband, first went to Uganda, he sat in the middle of the bloody mess, just loving people and listening to them, until he heard, several years in, that helping the people to start a small business could really change things. And through this process of listening and waiting and moving with the current, the business was born with great success, with a healthy prognosis, a strong body and all of the right doctors -- builders, financial planners, managers, engineers, operators -- coming to support the birth. Because Shawn’s work stemmed from a listening to and moving with, instead of a guilt-infested quick-fix, it is alive and well.
But because I’ve tried to hold the wound of orphaned children closed all by myself, with a generic brand band-aid, and a failing immune system, the prognosis is not looking good. Not miserable -- more like experiencing slow blood loss that, if not attended to soon, has about a three year life expectancy.
What I’m realizing is that when things start to die, I immediately go into my shame cycle, having been taught that when something goes wrong, it’s my fault, that if only I would have just ________________, this NEVER would have happened. But lately God’s telling me otherwise: that death, my dear, can’t be avoided. It’s part of the deal. And if you wait around long enough, you’ll see that it’s never really the end.
And this is why I’m so emotional about going to Uganda this time. Because the band-aid is sopping wet and leaking all over the place, the blood isn’t clotting, and it’s clear that the body isn’t working right. There’s blood on my hands and pools of it on the floor all around me and - I know this will come as a surprise to you - I’m realizing that... I’m just… not God.
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to resuscitate dying things like jobs and friendships and romantic relationships and every single time I’ve found that when it’s time has come to an end, no matter what I do, it’s just not going to happen. Surrendering to the completion of these cycles has allowed me the gift of witnessing new jobs and friends and partners spring up from the dead things -- I see now that surrendering to the process while believing in the possbility of new life is maybe this whole "faith" thing is all about.
So I have no idea what the hell’s going to happen when I step into the operating room next week. I’m trying to remember that yes, miracles are possible, and the body may start to respond to the treatment, but I also have to be realistic enough to know that I alone cannot (((and should not))) try save the world, that death is part of this whole chaotically beautiful *life* thing I signed up for, and that, when it happens, it’s never the end of the story.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human