I have to tell you a story.
All true. It’s about the second-worst summer of my life.
And to understand the second-worst summer of my life you really have to understand the week or so preceding it.
Bad things come in threes?
I was 19. Living in Tel Aviv. Studying history at the University.
And though my life wasn’t exactly filled with joyful Disneyesque prancing in the forest, surrounded by obscenely cheerful birds, things were good.
You know how it is. It’s life. It works.
Most of the time. I had friends I liked, a new-ish boyfriend who was cute and sweet and funny. Having finally adjusted from the culture shock after a couple years in the Middle East, I was even enjoying my studies.
What happened next hit so quickly that I still feel a little startled blink of shock just thinking about it.
My roommate (my best friend in the country at the time) picked up and moved to London. All my other friends suddenly announced they were going to do a year abroad in Australia or India or something. All of them.
Then the boyfriend dumped me. Abruptly. And I’d always been the dump-er, never the dumpee, so it was a total shocker of a shoe on the other foot moment.
This woman who was basically a mix between adoptive mother and loving mentor to me got sick suddenly and died. I got kicked out of where I was living. And fired from my waitressing job.
The phrase “bad things come in threes” was starting to seem somewhat absurd.
Within about a week and a half, I was completely alone. With nothing. And stunned. Too stunned to even fully realize how devastated I was.
Salvation comes in weird ways.
My aunt and uncle took me in (for which I am forever grateful), and I stayed in my cousin Michal’s tiny closet of a room with all my stuff piled up in plastic bags. And I waited.
It wasn’t clear what I was waiting for, but some part of me knew I’d pull through it eventually.
Now, in hindsight, I’d describe what happened to me as depression. Nearly catatonic depression. Now, in hindsight, it’s obvious to me that this was a hard-core defense mechanism kicking in to keep me from falling apart completely.
In hindsight things make a lot of sense.
At the time, though, I was too much in shock to be able to process any of it. I spent three months doing nothing. By which I mean alternating between smoking, sleeping and watching TV.
Some other time I’ll write about how I got through this experience, how I healed, or how this experience was in many ways the catalyst for the work we do here now.
But today I want to tell you about the books.
Bonk bonk bonk!
My cousin Michal — the one whose room I was hibernating in — was in India at the time, getting her PhD in Sanskrit (because she’s cool like that) and she kept sending back books. Stacks of them.
Big stacks of books, tied together with string.
Some were large and some were small and they were almost all about yoga.
This was before I had anything to do with yoga. Their existence on my floor wasn’t interesting to me, or meaningful, or anything. They were just stuff to trip over.
These books had names like Heal Your Pain Through Yoga and Solve All Your Problems With Yoga and (I may be exaggerating here) Hey, Moron, Use Yoga To Make Your Life Better When Everything is Going Horribly, Horribly Wrong.
And I was tripping over them.
Bonk bonk bonk.
I didn’t pay any attention. I didn’t even open any of the books. Mostly I resented them for taking up space in this already tiny, already cluttered room.
I was literally (and figuratively) tripping over the thing that could have helped me the most. And cursing it for being in the way.
Salvation comes in weird ways …
No regrets, no complaints … everything unfolded when it needed to, and I did end up finding yoga at the time in my life when it was right for me. Much later. And it was the thing I that helped me.
It brought me back to myself at a time when I was divorced, bitter and hurting.
Yoga was also the one thing that kept me sane and healthy during the summer that actually did turn out to be the worst summer of my life. The one that made the second-worst summer of my life seem like a relaxed island holiday.
I like a juicy piece of irony as much as the next person, so I’ve had some good belly laughs over the absurdity of this moment. In fact, I like to imagine how tiresome it must have been for the universe to keep bonking me over the head like that — with no reactions at all.
You know, I pretend there were wacky spirits discussing my situation and saying things like, “Could she be any more obtuse? We really can’t make it any more obvious than this. What’s a wacky spirit gotta do …. write a message on the wall in blood? You want a burning freaking bush?!”
Because that would be funny.
It is funny. I mean, the symbolism was so in-your-face that it could have been a film student’s first production. It’s a white dove: it means peace. Here, let’s fly it across the screen six more times so you’ll understand what it means when it gets shot down!
Bonk bonk bonk.
And, by the way, it’s not so important how you understand this story. You can read it any way you like and take from it anything you like. Because whether it’s about the bonking of a higher power or just the occasionally amusing ironies of life, the lesson is pretty much the same.
Bonk bonk bonk.
The past is the past. What are you learning right this second?
It doesn’t really matter that I didn’t get the message. It doesn’t matter that I was in resistance to receiving help in any form. Apparently I wasn’t ready. I’m ready now, though.
So the real question is: what books am I tripping over now?
In fact, I often wonder about the following scenario.
It’s a few years into the future and I’m telling a friend (maybe even you) about right now. September 2008.
And I’m saying “This is so crazy. The thing I needed the most was right there in front of me. The most obvious thing in the world. It was right there and I couldn’t see it.”
And then we laugh and laugh and laugh.
Because I’m pretty sure we’re tripping over stacks of books all the time. I’m pretty sure that everything you need to know is inside of you right now and that it’s showing up right now.
Whether it’s helpful little fairies poking you with symbolism sticks, or just someone quietly telling you what you need to hear at the right juncture of space and time … maybe what you need to understand is right in front of you.
Maybe it’s even the thing you’re tripping over.
Making a wish.
I’m not going to give you a bunch of cliches about how everything is for the best. Because No one wants to hear that when they’re hurting, and who knows if it’s even true.
And I’m certainly not going to tell you that the thing that’s causing you hurt and pain is going to be the thing that helps you later. That’s just not a compassionate thing to say.
What I do want to say is this: It’s a useful and helpful practice, sometimes, to just pause and notice what’s there. Get a millimeter or two of distance from the hurt.
For example, I can stop and say, “hey, I’m willing and ready to learn what I need to learn in this moment … in the least painful way possible.”
Or: “Even though I’m probably not seeing or hearing or picking up on whatever it is I need to know, I’m ready for that information to be revealed to me.”
Or whatever. Phrase it however you like. Find a way of asking yourself for permission to stop tripping and to start receiving help. Because maybe it’s right there.
That’s what I wish for you. And also for me.