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Learning to Stand

Sirasana is a complicated pose. To prepare for Sirasana, a specific type of headstand, one must first practice tadasana. Tadasana roots a yogi to the floor, stacks the body, and releases the shoulders. It looks like standing, it feels like something very different. After practicing Tadasana the next logical step is to turn it all upside down.

I cried through much of March and April in 2020. When I finished crying I exercised, and when I was filthy and wrung out I’d clean our home. I oozed sadness; then discomfort. I desperately tried to tamp down my fears by controlling my environment. By May, I was fine, possibly even happy, and there was no corner of the house left to clean.

Los Angeles was quiet and I drove around town as if I owned it. We threw golf bags over fences and squeezed our bodies under them playing 9, 18, or fuckit maybe 7 holes of golf at a time. Most often I saw no one else during the hours I trespassed. Sometimes a friend would keep me company, sometimes Mr. G, most often I was alone, and I was content.

I adapt nicely to solitude.

As the world skipped over Summer and Spring turned into Fall I’d stopped worrying about the kids. I stopped caring about all that we missed and routine took over. I settled for what little was offered to me and expected everyone else to do the same. It wasn’t that I didn’t want more for them, it’s that I forgot more might have been available. They didn’t forget.

Humans are creatures of habit, and after a few seasons pendulums would swing, sometimes wildly, from contentment to rage. Our home was like many others, blissful and enjoying our family back under one roof. Content with languorous backyard lunches with my folks where we’d run up extraordinary bills for Bahn mi or equally absurd salad deliveries. Our kids would pop in and out of the garden and we’d watch them with their grandparents and our hearts would be full.

And then there would be rage because I just wanted to get out of the house goddamnit and be around people. I didn’t want to know the people. I wanted to eavesdrop or small talk or something else that I didn’t know what it was, they were flashes of heat that bubbled out in the most inappropriate moments. In retrospect, I note that indulging in sadness might have been too scary. I know how to recover from rage.

Everything passed. The feelings, most of the mourning, the losses, the gains. It all moved from foreground to back and the coldest of January almost did us in but gave way to February and our first vaccines.

The kids are in school and working, the offices are open, I pay for my golf these days, and I haven’t been angry in a very long while. I allow myself moments to indulge in the sadness of my kids having these oh so important college years stolen from them, but only as an indulgence, and not as a wallow. All the in-betweens are gone. I forget to notice the ordinary and uneventful.

Perhaps the in-betweens are what led to hugging a stranger.

After waking up to a text that read, “I’m all good and not near the shooting – haven’t left my apartment yet.” I read half a snippet of a partial headline and realized there was a subway shooting one, two, not quite three stops from our daughter’s home in Brooklyn. Not knowing more than the fact that it occurred, and that she was safe was enough for me to put my phone down, have some coffee and start my day quietly. Meditatively.

It wasn’t until four hours later that I would see the text reply that read, “it seems premeditated so I’m going to stay home today or at least until they catch him”. A few moments later I’d be on the phone and learn that she’d woken to a text alert for her neighborhood. A warning to shelter in place.

Shelter In Place wasn’t a term I heard until my 30s. My children, however, have been practicing it since they were 5-year-olds in North Hollywood, attending a school that was all too often crime adjacent, particularly on the side of the school where the organic garden is.

We talked about the shooter, about leaving the house, about school and work prospects, about friends, and about graduation. We didn’t talk about feeling afraid or being resentful that once again she was locked in her apartment. We didn’t talk about the insanity of the apartment, once again, being used to hide her from deadly events outside of her control. I told her I loved her because often that’s how we get off the phone, and because she is loved.

I would go on to spend the next hour folding and unfolding myself in a yoga studio. In a truly remarkable session, we concentrated first on tadasana and ended with an extended amount of time in sirasana.

Moments after leaving the studio I stood dazed and sweaty in front of the prepared food at Everytable. I tried to imagine which plates would make our staggered meals simpler for the next two days. Clear-minded I let out a breath that might have been confused for a sigh just as the store manager asked me if I needed any help.

“I have kids,” I told her, smiling.

I didn’t mean it in the, “I’m overwhelmed by my kids” kind of way. I meant it in the, “I’m standing here wondering if my son would eat cauliflower mac and cheese” kind of way (he hated it). No matter, she told me about her three, and between us, there were five teenage to adult children that were the apples of our eyes and the pains in our asses. We were the same age, the same size, the same height, but where I’d fought to tame my hair she’d piled hers atop her head. She sported an unconstrained crown of curls.

“You look like you need a hug. Would you like one?”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked that by a stranger, and as I stood there confused by the question my mouth said yes. I embraced her and relaxed my arms quickly, stepping back, as one does. She tightened her arms, pulling me in, and for the second time that hour, I sank into my breath. In the safety of her orbit, I thought about our daughter last September running from campus as a classmate was shot and texting me that the gunman was taking the subway in a different direction than she was headed, that everything was alright. It wasn’t alright then, and it isn’t today.

It’s easy to react passionately to an inescapable pandemic. The in-betweens are where the endemics live, and they’re sinister.

I took my cauliflower mac and cheese, my veggie curry, oatmeal cookie, and buffalo chicken wrap to the car, plunked myself down, and reflected on how very much I missed strangers. I missed touch.

Two days later I am caressing the arm of a boy, a man really, but since he’s the same age as my children, he’s a boy with me. I’m shipping some packages and we’re talking about the CHP shooting a motorist that morning. We’re talking about policing and his mother’s worst fears, and I tell him about the time I got a call from one of ours who had been pulled over at night by an inept highway patrolman. I can’t offer him a hug because he’s across a counter from me, but I continue to rub his arm the way I rubbed my kids’ arms when they were very young and needed to be soothed into a nap. I held both his hands in one of mine because they were shaking. Or perhaps that was me.

Reemerging is complicated, it might even be overrated. So I use the four corners of my feet, place my heart over my hips, and stand like a mountain. Unshakeable. Immoveable. Solid. Perhaps I’ll hold this pose when, inevitably, I am once again turned upside down.

a photograph of a young man standing on his head under scaffolding in new york it is the yoga pose savasana