Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Better Than You Ever Imagined

When I first met Jude Monteserrato, I wanted to be her.
I’d come to her yoga class in her lovely home studio through her husband, Ed Cardinal, a Thai massage practitioner who’d helped me work through some lower back issues.  Jude radiated peace, calm, well-being.
In other words, all the things I lacked at that point in my life.
I became a quasi-regular at her classes, trying to temper my cardio addiction with the strength and fortitude yoga offered.
I never guessed at the painful past that led to Jude’s placid present.
On September 11, 2001, Jude and her husband John had made their way, as usual, to their jobs: his in New York City’s World Trade Center and hers nearby in the World Financial Center.  Jude fell, injuring herself slightly.  John wanted to take her to the hospital.  Jude shrugged him off.  She was fine, she told him.
So she went on to work.
Her husband continued into the World Trade Center.
The rest, as they so inadequately say, is history.
Jude’s husband was one of the 2,996 people who perished in the terrorist attacks that day.  Jude herself was a casualty as well.  She was paralyzed not only by grief, but by the “if only” game: if only she’d allowed John to take her to the hospital, if only she’d died alongside him…
She returned to work after three and a half months, but something had changed.  She wasn’t sure what the meaning of life was, but it certainly wasn’t to spend it in a cubicle.  Ultimately, she left the corporate world.  She began going to yoga classes.  She rolled out her mat in the back of the room, always dressed in black, her sweatshirt hood pulled over her head.  She wasn’t even sure at first why she was going.  Nothing mattered.  Why should yoga matter?  But she found that while she practiced yoga, she forgot her pain.  She forgot everything.
The time after class was another story altogether.  She often found herself crying, releasing the hurt she’d previously kept trapped inside.  In time, she came to view yoga as her calling.  She realized the “voice” telling her to practice yoga was her soul.  She began training, eventually earning her 2000 hour Purna Yoga instructor certification.  On a trip to Thailand, she met Ed Cardinal.  She wasn’t ready for a new relationship, but he was willing to wait.  Ultimately, she ended up in Rhode Island with Ed - whom she recently married - and her path crossed mine.
Just as my marriage imploded.
The day I left my home was one of the saddest days of my life.  Just ask the moving men, the two poor souls sent by Gentry Moving & Storage to deal with my sorry self.  I opened my mouth to utter a simple sentence about which items were going and which were staying, and my grief fell out.  Luckily, these guys were not only movers, but apparently amateur psychologists.  They offered Kleenex and water, gently placed boxes in front of me and inquired as to how they might fill them, asked the sort of yes-or-no questions that work well with toddlers. 
And then, somehow, it was done.
My meager belongings had been transported from the home my husband and I had built - literally - with our own hands.  They had been deposited in a little rental that, although bright and clean, smelled foreign.  A not-my-home smell.
I sat there amidst the boxes, the piles of books, the furniture that looked strange in this tiny apartment so close yet so far from home.  I thought about my husband and the dog I’d left to comfort him.  Would they be enough for each other?  Would they be okay?  Would I be okay?  I did not sleep.  I turned a single thought over and over in my mind:
If I’d left because staying was killing me, why did it feel like leaving would kill me too?
In the morning, I hardly knew where to begin.  I pulled on yoga clothes and went to Jude’s home studio.  The bright, buttercream space, the warm wood of the bamboo floor and the yoga wall - they welcomed me.  I said hello and little more.  I tucked in, glad for the focus.  At the end of our practice, Jude did a reading - something about strength or self - and I had to swallow hard at the lump rising in my throat.  I left quickly, before anyone could see the tears in my eyes.
But I came back.
I unpacked boxes, hung curtains and pictures, marveled at how such a homey space still wasn’t my home.  I cried more than was healthy; the dog and cat agreed and tried to make the waterworks stop.  They employed various methods, from sympathetic pawing and purring to passive-aggressive expulsion of bodily fluids onto home textiles.  I cleaned up, hunkered down, avoided friends, sought out work.
But I kept going, every so often, to Jude’s yoga studio.  
I kept finding comfort and strength.  I shed a tear or two during the readings Jude sometimes offered at the close of class.  I found hope when what I wanted to do, frankly, was check out.  Stick a fork in me, I was done.
Except that I wasn’t.
I’m not.
It’s a funny thing, life.  It wants us even when we don’t want it.  I thought about that as Jude and I talked recently.  Something in me feels her loss trumps mine.  Jude’s husband, I am sure, would have given anything to stay with her.  Mine would do nothing to stay with me.  She lost true love.  I lost…what?  A happily-ever-after only I had believed in, maybe.  Vows made by two but felt by just one.  That’s different, right?  It should be easier to lose something that wasn’t real, shouldn’t it?
The feelings aren’t different, though.
The grief isn’t.  The sense of loss.  The relentless “if only.”
On a recent chilly late spring day, Jude and I sat in a local park and talked.  Sometimes the sun came out.  Sometimes raindrops fell.  Children ventured over to ask if they could pet my dog, Kimba.  Kimba chewed grass until I scolded him, then he sat contentedly on my lap.
This is life, I thought.
A park on an iffy-weather day.  A loyal little dog.  A friend who’s been through unfathomable suffering and come out on the other side.  A moment in time where my own pain flies away, even as we talk about it.  The knowledge that it all will return, but that somehow each of us will still be okay.
The other day, Jude emailed me this quote: “Just because the past didn’t turn out like you wanted it to doesn’t mean your future can’t be better than you ever imagined.”
And I smiled.
{South County friends, I would love to see you in one of Jude’s intimate yoga classes - and if you haven’t experienced the yoga wall, you will LOVE it!  Click here for more info. Namaste.}

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