“Little darling, it’s been a long and lonely winter.” ~ Here Comes the Sun, James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma
We’re in the middle of what’s turned out to be one of the moodiest winters in my memory.
We’ve braced ourselves against some of the coldest temperatures in history and basked in temperatures warmer than they ever should be.
It’s as if Mother Nature were battling against herself, hesitant to fully emerge into her own season, even though it’s one that’s already here. But that’s okay, because, in our own way, I think we’ve been doing the same.
This winter marks two years since our biggest storm ever. It first appeared as a blizzard, but what it left in its wake was far worse. The blizzard kept us home for days, but that wasn’t actually so bad. I was cozy with coffee and fires in the fireplace. I was inspired to write and even got to watch some good movies on television.
Best of all were the photos I received of my daughter and her boyfriend braving the blizzard in their new neighborhood. At the height of the storm, they had decided that it was as good a time as any to explore some of the local restaurants. And so they put on their ski googles and set out to see what was open. They were hungry and wanted to find a good place for dinner.
Less than a month later, the snow was gone, and so was he.
The snow had melted slowly, but he had left us just so suddenly that, even after all this time, his loss is still difficult to process. And for my daughter, as for so many of us who are mourning him, it’s been an epic battle the likes of Mother Nature’s. It’s been difficult to fully emerge into a future without him, even though it’s one that’s already here.
So much has changed in the aftermath of this storm. I’ve walked endless miles with my daughter through a landscape that’s so vastly different from anything we could have ever imagined. Our conversations have rounded the corners of both hope and despair, the two opposing forces of her battle. Yet fight as she may, these forces seem to remain inextricably linked, like two sides of the same coin. It’s been hard for her not to lose hope when she despairs, but how can she not, when her hopes are tied to someone who’s not there?
This battle has made it an effort to get through some of her days, and nothing has waited while she’s tried to find her way. Life has continued to speed along at the clip it probably always did; it’s just that it’s momentum has been harder to match. And that, on the one hand, is what makes her despair. For if too much time passes, then what will become of him? What will become of what might have been?
She doesn’t want him to be forgotten.
But then, on other days, the coin flips, and miracles happen! There are days when we get incredible signs from him, and four babies have been born to his friends and family since then! Each one is more beautiful than the next, and each get to carry a part of his name. In this way, something of him comes to life with them, and that, along with the fact that they’re even here, has allowed for some hope to set in. And now, on some days, my daughter can even feel a bit of ease returning.
The dance between effort and ease is a delicate one. It’s also an ancient one. I’ve only recently learned about it in a yoga teacher training. It’s described in one of the Yoga Sutras, the collection of yogic observations and truths compiled by the sage Patanjali, sometime before 400 CE. The sutras were written in Sanskrit, and this one simply says, “Sthira Sukham Asanam”.
Translated to English, this sutra means “posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha)”. More loosely translated, it means that effort and ease are yet another set of opposite forces that are inextricably linked, like two sides of the same coin. And, together, they create a certain balance in the postures that’s otherwise hard to find. In yoga, this balance is referred to as our comfortable seat. It’s the sweet spot, and, even once it’s found, it takes practice to find it again.
I think there’s got to be some sort of validity to any ancient wisdom that’s persevered for so long. And so now my conversations with my daughter are also rounding the corners of effort and ease, because I think it’s going to take both for her to fully emerge into her new season. She’ll have to make the effort, while also inviting the ease, in order to find her comfortable seat.
To some, making the effort may seem a more daunting task than that of inviting ease; but, for others, it can be just the opposite. It’s not easy to let go of that which we hold most dear. And surrendering can be risky, too, because it brings up those same questions again. If she were to let go, then what would become of him? What would become of what might have been?
But, still, I encourage her. “What would happen,” I ask, “if you were to give up the fight?”
At this point, she’s not sure. It takes a lot of faith to abandon a battle, but sometimes it might be the only way to save ourselves.
And so I urge my daughter to keep the faith, and when she loses hers, I tell her that she can rely on mine, because I’ve been practicing surrender for a longer time. Much of my practice has taken place at yoga, where the search for Sthira Sukham Asanam never ends. That’s how I've built my faith, over and over, again.
And now I’ve built enough faith to be able to believe that there are just some things that we may never get to know, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less so. I no longer think that we need to see all the dots in order for them to be connected.
And so when it’s hard for my daughter to let go, I try to remind her that life is about more than we will ever know. It’s about all those signs that we get from him. And it’s about those babies, too. For I believe that they’ve come to this Earth from places unknown, perhaps even from where he’s returned. And that would mean that they have arrived with something of the Divine in them, just like with us and just like with him.
I was at yoga the other night, and we were seated in a forward fold. Most of our work was done, and we were nearing the end of the practice. With my legs extended out in front of me, I hinged at my hips, reached for my toes and dropped my heart toward my knees. This is where I always find the ease. Forward folds are calming, and the ones at the end of the practice are especially peaceful.
Usually, we hold the fold for a few breaths, but this time the instructor asked us for just a bit more effort. We were instructed to lift our right foot with our right hand and move it forward, just one inch. Then we were instructed to lift our left foot with our left hand to meet the right. I walked myself forward like this, watching my hands do the work of my feet, until I was more fully extended than I thought possible. Still holding onto my feet, I lifted my heart one more time, before dropping it again toward my knees.
“This is a practice of surrender,” the instructor said.
It wasn’t lost on me the extra work we’d just done to simply fold over. We’d taken only a few incremental steps, but they were purposeful ones. They’d made me lift my heart again and let me fold more of the practice in. And, to me, that made them faithful steps, the kind I take when I believe.
And what I’ve come to believe is that it is possible to find peace in the aftermath of a storm.
And I believe that my daughter was supposed to have loved this young man, and that her work now is not about getting over him. Instead, it’s about those faithful steps. It’s about folding him into her heart, as she extends herself more fully around the next corner of her life, because he’s a part of her now, just as he’s a part of those babies, and just as he’s a part of all of us who loved him.