I haven’t posted in what seems like ages because so much has been going on that it’s hard to know where to even begin. One of Steven’s best friends suffered a tragic accident that landed him in a medically-induced coma on life support for days, before he eventually passed.
Last Sunday we drove to Hollywood for Zach’s service, which was heartbreaking but beautiful. Zach blessed many in his passing, and I was one of them. I did not receive one of the organs that he donated, but part of my own heart was resurrected and healed in the aftermath of the tragedy.
We drove Steven’s car down a very familiar route for me. As I took the same I-95 exit that I used to live off of, I began to feel physically ill – having a physiological response to the growing anxiety within me. It only increased as we got closer not only to the beach where the service would be held, but also to my old apartment, passing the landmarks I used to see every day of the life I once lived, yet had tried to dissociate from and sever from my memory.
I felt trapped inside my body, trapped inside the car, trapped in the place I’d fled in a hurry with no plans of returning. I tried bringing up to Steven how I was feeling without making something that had nothing to do with me about me, but guess what? It became about me anyway. Patient Steven just simply said that he (understandably) didn’t have the capacity to think about anything other than his friend in that moment.
Of course! How could I even be thinking about anything other than my amazing boyfriend in the passenger seat grieving one of the biggest losses of his life?! I felt gross, guilty, and ashamed at what I was feeling, which only made me feel worse. All I wanted was to exile those thoughts and be able to focus on and comfort Steven.
Yet as we arrived to the restaurant that was designated as our meeting place, I still couldn’t shake the knots in my stomach or the tightness in my chest. Steven noticed that I wasn’t okay, so I excused myself to the privacy of the restroom in the hopes of collecting myself. I tried talking myself out of it, I tried shaming myself out of it, and my “pep talks” only served to increase my anxiety and make me feel even worse, convincing me that I was crazy to have agreed to come back here in the first place.
Finally it hit me: what would I tell someone else, like one of my students, to do in this situation? I would tell them to acknowledge their feelings and to trace them to the source. I would tell them that it’s okay to feel everything they’re feeling. That these emotions are happening for a reason and cannot simply be ignored or pushed back into the deep crevices where they’ve been hiding.
I gave myself permission to acknowledge that I have experienced trauma in this place, that I am human, and that of course I would feel something being back here for the first time. As soon as I let myself off the hook, I immediately began feeling better. My stomach began untying itself and I could finally breathe all the way in again.
I was able to leave the bathroom and rejoin my amazing boyfriend and his friends fully present and experience the beach with new eyes. So much had changed there in five years! And seeing Steven with friends who he’s known at least half his life was so cool, even given the devastating circumstances.
It was a lovely service that honored Zach and his family and closest friends, and I became aware of the gifts he was blessing us with. For Steven, asking me how God could allow someone so good to go so young and unexpectedly, to which we can only conclude the obvious: it was simply his time. Zach was someone so full of life, who lived in the present and reminded others to do the same.
When I was in India, I learned that such present living – not being bogged down by past memories or caught up in anxious thoughts about the future – just enjoying the present moment, is the goal. That being able to experience full presence of mind, body, and spirit is why we practice yoga… that the present is where they are able to unite, and that this state is what brings us into Samadhi, or total bliss and unity with the Divine. It is basically the aim of all of our efforts toward spiritual growth and maturity, and is so elusive to so many of us.
Steven shared with me that Zach and his late brother Michael seemed to have had this figured out and lived this way effortlessly. Maybe that’s why they both got to go so young and still so vibrantly full of joie de vivre. Maybe also to teach us their secret to a full life, that we may be inspired by their examples of living in the present.
One of the ways I have no doubts that Zach’s life and death were used by God to bless us is that he used this tragedy in my healing that I was unaware of even needing. He used it to heal wounds I’d suppressed and tried to ignore and forget for a long time.
Because of revisiting the place of my personal Hell on Earth, I was granted the opportunity to truly let go. That is a gift not only for me, but also to Steven, who now shares my heart, as well as for my friends, family, and the people I will continue to work with as they rehabilitate from their own trauma.
Before we left the beach at the end of the day, I untied one of my string bracelets from a fire ceremony in India and separated it into two, giving half to Steven. We set intentions for the future, inspired by the lives of Zach and Michael, and chose something to let go of, as well as something to set forth from there on out. Steven asked me to pray with him at the water’s edge, and then we released our bracelet into the waves, saying “swaha” as they do during fire ceremonies, in the same way that I received it. Swaha means “as it is” or “let it be” – basically the Sanskrit version of “amen” – and is the perfect way to cement an intention or close a ceremony.
With my half of our bracelet, I let go of the past associations I held of that place, of a really painful part of my past. My intention was to be open to life and to making new memories. What a gift indeed. Thank you, Zach. Swaha!
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