"To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."--Ralph Waldo Emerson
"You changed my life," he said.
I blinked back tears and I felt my knees nearly buckle beneath the weight of the world...
My Honda and I barely made it out of the parking lot before I let out a sob that lasted for the first two hours of my drive away. Then, for the next 5 hours, I only cried intermittently as my mind flip-flopped between what had suddenly and so unexpectedly become "the past" and what is yet to appear in the shapeless future. I sobbed between knowing exactly what has brought me here, and trying to focus on the unknown ahead.
Of course, I thought about stopping and turning back, but I knew this would not be wise. It has all been revelatory, but it is clearly not the time for being foolish. I told myself that I do not yet have the room in my heart to have it break again. I also told myself that I have done all that I came to do. Yet even still, I (briefly) fantasized about spontaneous car trouble and I even laughed at myself for this. Despite the fact that life certainly feels like a soap opera at times, I still cannot bring myself to act like a drama queen.
So I kept going with the awareness that going back would be an admission of my own tenderness right now and the limitations of what I can both give and bear. Yet moving forward was also an acknowledgment of my own, undeniable vulnerability. It occurred to me that no matter where we are, it is important not to stagnate, sell-out, and settle for what seems like a good idea on paper. I considered the idea that it is all too easy to be comfortable for all of the glaringly wrong reasons.
And so I kept going in light of the truth because the truth is that I never had the intention to change anyone's life, I was just living mine. It just happened that I was navigating through a year of the biggest personal and professional challenges one could find. Funny how it was just a job for the meantime, just another line to add to the resume, and just some random place in the middle of nowhere. But, (once upon a time), the proximity of the job to the rabbi allowed the rabbi and I to make plans of a lifetime. Who knew?
In all, all of it was serendipity. Even with everything so fresh, I can clearly see that it was never about the job or the rabbi, but about the enormity of encountering the lives of many others beyond my own, even in a moment that became exceptionally solitary, dark and often perilous for me to bear.
In the end, perhaps this is what Emerson means to have "succeeded"?
"Yoga just ain't the same without you...," my amazing boss wrote me tonight.
"You are so missed," one student wrote earlier in the day.
"You'll always be in my heart," he texted with conviction. And then, "It is not nearly as much fun waking up without you here."
Others have written and called to say that there is a palpable hole that I left behind. In my mind, I imagine the water of the Finger Lake filling it over in the spring and a tree taking root somewhere in the meantime. I suppose we can never understand the enormity of what we leave behind in the lives of others?
"Bring me back to the job," I replied via text to my amazing boss.
"I miss you, too. Please keep up the good work!" I enthusiastically wrote my student.
"Miss me. A lot. And if you still miss me badly enough then we should talk...," I told him with as tenderness as my heart could bear.
And still it moves...(said Galileo).
And still it moves...
(Though the hardest part is not knowing why or to where.)
Maybe I will get the call again and my heart will be more prepared this time. Or maybe I will just go back for a nice visit.