One of the students in my chair yoga class felt very stimulated after a certain pose and asked, “Can I do this pose at home? It felt so good!” It was a beautiful summer day and a little breeze blew in through the slightly open window of the community room.
Alana, my very wonderful yoga teacher, smiled and responded, “Of course you can,” and then, after a pause, “Remember one thing, though. When you do it at home, it may not be the same experience. If you try to replicate what happened here, it may get in your way. Sometimes we appreciate something and try to hang on to the experience. It was so good, we want to recreate it. But every time we do a pose, it is a different experience, and every experience has its own expression. It is better to be open to the new experience that will come from this pose.”
I thought about past special moments that I was hanging onto, hoping to recreate them at some time in the future. I still harbored a fantasy that sometime in the future, I would sit again on our screened porch on the lake in Maine, look out over the water, and sink into the contentedness I had found there. I thought often, also, of the place on the Maine coast where I had spent much of each summer with my grandmother and great-aunt when I was young. I was always hoping to recapture those special times; even though our lake house and my childhood ocean cottage had long ago been sold to others to enjoy, and my grandmother and great-aunt had long ago left this earth. I needed to let go of the illusion I could bring them back.
Rosemary and I were about to leave on vacation and, as we had each summer since we had sold our lake house, we had rented a cottage on the Maine coast, a way up the shoreline from my childhood Eden, on one of the other peninsulas that stretched out into the ocean from mid-coast Maine. One of our daughters and her family would join us there.
I heeded my teacher’s words; I had few expectations for what the time would be like. I would be open to new experiences, to whatever this vacation brought.
I need to explain here that I am a volunteer in a clinical trial for a lung disease I have. I am fairly certain that I am getting the real drug rather than a placebo, because I have the side effects known to be associated with this drug. I had to stop taking the drug for a brief period and the side effects went away. I restarted the drug, and the side effects came back. This was a good thing, for it validated my belief that I have the real drug, and the drug is meant to slow the progress of my disease.
One of the side effects of the drug, however, is an extreme sensitivity to sunlight. If I am exposed to sunlight, I get a rash on my body which is painful and itchy. When I was in Hawaii for Rosemary’s father’s funeral last month, I was very careful not to be out in the sun, but even though I stayed in the shade, the sun’s reflection off other objects was enough to cause me to develop a rash. I had to stop taking the drug for a period of time.
Now, I am super cautious about the sun, because it is important to me that the drug work. During our Maine vacation, I spent most of the time inside. If I went to a restaurant for breakfast or lunch, I wore special clothing that had UV protection; if I couldn’t avoid the sun, even for a short period, I carried an umbrella that had UV protection; I lathered myself in sun tan lotion; I made certain that restaurants had a place to sit inside; I asked for a table away from the window. I had seen photos of people whose hands were affected through the car window while they were driving, so I was careful to sit in the car in as much shade as possible. I was determined not to have to stop taking this drug permanently.
Our vacation time, nevertheless, was grand – we had a very special lobster bake, several shore dinners, a boat ride to Boothbay Harbor to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July, visits with friends – and a superb house in the middle of acres and acres of forest, looking out over the bay, seals, sail boats, and lobster boats passing by. Our four teenage grandsons enjoyed the kayaks and paddle board, made jigsaw puzzles with us, and went out for Gifford’s Ice Cream.
My restrictions didn’t stop me from enjoying our Maine vacation. The view from the house was extraordinary and I sat and wrote in front of a window (in a shaded area) that looked out over the water. I could go out at night if I stayed away from wooded, swampy areas. (Maine had had a very wet spring and the mosquitoes were horrendous.). Late in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, I would put on my UV clothing and hat, and Rosemary and I would go down to the dock, where seals swam by, ducks dove, and osprey called from the trees. I found magic in times of day that might have passed me by.
This morning, we woke up at 5:00 am and went to a nearby beach, which is quite populated during the day. The day was cloudy and the sun was still hidden behind the trees. With my special attire, I thought I would be pretty safe. No one else was on the beach, we had our choice of parking places, bird song surrounded us, one lobster boat maneuvered around the buoys out in the bay. It was extraordinarily peaceful. We walked the length of the beach and back. I picked up beach glass; Rosemary gave me a rock in the shape of a heart; we stopped to smell the beach roses. This tranquil walk would not have happened if I had been able to be out in the daytime; I would have rolled over and gone back to sleep until later, when the beach would have been a different place.
As I walked the beach in the early morning, I heard a familiar sound. The waves were gently splashing against the shore. Not pounding, as on some beaches; not still or occasional, as at a lake. Just a long roll, a gentle swish, a moment of silence, then the wave falling away. Another long roll, a gentle swish, an occasional gurgle, a moment of silence, the wave falling away. Over and over, a lulling song, a sound that had put me to sleep when I was young, in our little yellow cottage by the sea; a sound that awakened me in the morning; a song that was the background of every day. I stood tall and breathed in on this new beach; I breathed the fresh smell of the ocean, the sea-weed, the clam flats. Just for a few moments, it all came back – the feeling of youthful expectancy, of happiness for the day, of safety with my grandmother and aunt nearby.
Alana was right, if I let go, if I stopped trying to recreate, but was open to the new creation, I could find a new moment. But also, I discovered, in the midst of that new moment, reverberations of what I feared I could no longer find−echoing down through 70 years.