I lost a friend this week.
My friend lost her life.
I knew from the beginning our friendship would end this way. Yet, I didn’t know how wonderful our friendship would be or how much I would grow from it. I always knew how much I would miss her.
Kelly was my yoga teacher. I take classes here in New York designed especially for women like me. We’ve all had mastectomies or lumpectomies and are now in different stages of recovery or continued battles with cancer or are dealing with the repercussions like lymphedema. At first I didn’t want to join any group with a large number of women who all had cancer at one time or another. I feared it would be very sad. An hour and a half of “whoa is me”. My fears couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tari is the main teacher but one day she had a substitute and that was Kelly. She opened the class with this story by Pema Chodron, which is in her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
A woman is running from tigers. There is no escape but to go over a cliff via a hanging vine. The woman swings out over empty space, free from the pursuing tigers now above her, only to see another group below her, seemingly waiting for her to fall. She sees a small mouse begin to gnaw at the vine, and in the moment, realizes that her life is in grave danger. Her attention is distracted by a cluster of wild strawberries growing on the cliff face next to her. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse, then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Sitting on my mat cross-legged with my eyes closed I loved the story and knew immediately we would be friends. Eventually, a group of us would go out after class for tea. Kelly had a mastectomy too only she was 5 years ahead of me. When you are in the midst of having an expander and are moving towards the more “permanent” breast installation, you can’t imagine that life becomes normal around the verbiage and fears cancer comes with. Kelly was the person I wanted to be after I finished walking through the fires of hell. Actually, Kelly is someone I would have admired at any time in my life. Her early career was as a dancer and her lithe carriage remained long after her point shoes were retired. Her nature was that of what you would expect of a yogi; soft kindness wrapped in a layer of sweetness. Don’t get me wrong, she knew how to verbally snap you into place when need be but she had a quiet, soothing strength.
It was just a few months after meeting her that she arrived at class completely shaken. I knew that Kelly’s cancer had metastasized shortly after her mastectomy and later that day learned that after a two-year silence it was back. This time the lesions were on her liver. Within weeks, her fiancé moved to Chicago declaring he just wasn’t ready for this. He didn’t take her or their dog with him. He did take the income that afforded the apartment she lived in. By months end, Kelly’s world had changed and she scrambled to find a place to live and begin treatment. I didn’t know how to help her as she had pride and I knew wouldn’t take money. Then I came up with the brilliant plan that I would take private lessons. I gave things up in my own life to pay Kelly weekly to teach me yoga.
That was two years ago. We weathered many health storms together but what Kelly taught me more that anything was how to live. I mean really live. To focus on the sweet beauty of what we a have right now and without any excuses live in the moment of it. She did this by example. Kelly loved to scuba dive and when a friend bought her a ticket to Mexico last September, she went between chemo session’s port in her chest and all. She just wanted to be under the sea one last time and grabbed hold of the opportunity with both hands. Her fearless adventures fueled my own.
Kelly grew weaker but still insisted on teaching me even after the lesions moved to her brain. The lessons moved to her new apartment, went from one hour to nearly three and the majority of the time was spent talking and laughing. In hindsight, I’m not even sure what we were laughing at. I just know we were.
Kelly died last Friday at 4:00 in the morning.
This Sunday her name is penciled in my calendar for 2:00. She had taken off to California for the holidays and this was the weekend we were meeting back up. I’m at a loss. I decided I would keep the appointment and try to practice without her to honor her. I hope I don’t disappoint my teacher.