When I closed my eyes I felt so much anger … and frustration … and defeat. It was the end of my yoga class and I was lying on my back. This is supposed to be the moment when serenity drifts over me; when I should feel centered again. Instead, I fought back the urge to scream.
I only recently returned to yoga. A few years ago, I practiced twice a week. Then, I stopped for reasons that escape me now. After a few weeks penned up in the apartment from Corona lock-down, it seemed like as good a time as any to return.
Last week, I joined my dear friend (and fitness muse) Pixie Acia’s class. It didn’t go as planned. I had the wrong mat and I didn’t set out a towel or water. Frankly, I was a hot mess. This week, I got my act together. I prepped the living room properly. I had all my essentials at hand. And, I was feeling excited about stretching my body and gathering with the delightful crew of friends who Zoom around Pixie.
As soon as class began, Jordan asked to join me. My first instinct was to decline that request. She sprung it on me too late. We hadn’t prepared for her. And if she joined me I would have to keep one eye on her to keep her safe. Yet, a voice in my head reminded me that Jordan wouldn’t ask to join if it wasn’t important to her—that she wanted to share the experience with me. So, we rushed to roll out her mat and she plopped down beside me.
It started well. She attempted many poses. Occasionally, I’d coach her to modify. Yet we found a rhythm and I found joy sharing this moment with Jordan.
Then, it was time for straps. And Jordan realized she didn’t have one. I told her where her strap was but for some reason she fetched the elastic band Nettie uses for physical therapy. I was annoyed but then I thought, “if it works, so be it.”
And then the snap.
Jordan stretched it too far and it burst into two flaccid halves.
Thus began our first miniature crisis.
I turned off the camera, checked to see if she was ok, scolded her for grabbing the wrong strap, found her the right one, and then encouraged her to follow along.
Camera back on, we resumed.
Then the seizure came.
“Dad, I’m going to throw up,” she said.
We engaged in a small argument. She pleaded with me for a bucket while I insisted she take the pill from my outstretched hand and put it under her tongue. I knew she wasn’t going to throw up. The seizures make her feel nauseous. The nausea goes away when the meds kick in. Medicine first. Then the bucket, if needed. We didn’t need it.
I don’t remember if I turned the camera off during the scurrying and worrying. It’s possible our scramble for Lorazepam was on full display for my yoga colleagues. It was then that the anger began to surface. I didn’t mind that she wanted to join me but I resented the disruptions. This time—my time—was being invaded.
Jordan stopped trying the poses. She sat on her mat and watched me. Then she stared downward. As I moved through warrior pose I noticed that she was looking glum. I asked what was wrong.
“I broke Mom’s strap,” she said.
“Can we talk about this later?”
“I took it without permission. And I broke it,” she replied.
“Jordan, it’s ok. We’ll get another strap.”
“But it was her property,” she said.
“Jordan, you wanted to join me for yoga. You’re here now. Focus!”
I suggested she try child’s pose.
I did my best to refocus. I haven’t exercised much over the past few weeks and I could feel it, or the lack of it. Sweat drenched my neck. My muscles shook and wobbled. And I was breathing hard. I became aware that nothing in my body or mind was at peace. And that’s when I noticed Jordan on her iPhone … while still on-camera with me … and the whole class. That’s when I growled at her through the corner of my mouth.
“You’re being rude. You can’t just do your own thing. It’s bad etiquette. It shows no respect for Pixie or for our friends who are trying to enjoy the session. If you want to play on your phone, go somewhere else!”
I said all of this, mind you, while trying to keep up with some pose that required us to twist our torso while our feet stretched and … I forget. It was complicated and I was distracted.
She put the phone away and sat next to me for the remainder of the session. And the more she sat there, moping and motionless, the angrier I became.
So, there I was—in that moment when I was supposed to find serenity lying flat on my back.
I had this awful urge to lecture the girl right then and there … to say what was on my mind … to tell her how angry I was.
Instead, I prayed. I asked, “God, why me? Why can’t I catch a break? Why can’t you stop putting this pressure on me?”
I do not pray. Or, I should say that I rarely pray. I was raised in a religious home, but I left religion long ago. So, this sudden pleading and complaining to a higher power felt odd.
Then I tried to do what many friends have suggested whenever I’ve mentioned I want to try meditation. I tried to observe my thoughts. I felt that grievance I just made to God bounce and rattle around my brain. Each time it bounced it got a little quieter. I didn’t touch it; nor did I try to banish it. And I felt it fade like the sound of a screaming child running down a hall away from me.
Then another thought presented itself. It was a notion from down the road. It observed me getting worked up and dropped by. It was utterly guileless, and a bit parochial, but it was also kind and concerned, in a neighborly way. It apologized for intruding but then suggested that the good lord chose me because He knew I would be the best at caring for my daughter and for dealing with situations like … my recent predicament.
This simpleton of a brain-fart annoyed me. It lingered humbly in the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t much to enamor. It had clearly spent too much time in the sun, and it didn’t dress to impress. But it wouldn’t go away when I ignored it. So, I let it continue.
“It’s ok to get angry,” it said. “I imagine you’re tired. But no one can care for her like you. She chose you for that very reason.”
To this, I was skeptical.
“Oh, yes,” the thought replied. “She chose you. And He blessed the choice.”
It confused me. I wanted to fight it. That’s when I felt the tear run down my cheek. Here, in this virtual yoga class, I was losing my shit. I tried to focus on Pixie’s words, to take myself back to class and ignore this spiritual twit that barged in like a lost cousin.
The thought wandered off but I sensed it telling me I could holler if I ever needed a reminder again.
I don’t like to think like this. Throughout our journey, I despised when people said, “God chose her because she can take it.” Those words felt cruel and they made me less inclined to entertain religion. What higher power would choose to inflict cancer upon a child?
But this thought was different from those unhelpful consolations of the past.
It made me reflect upon my time with Jordan earlier this morning–in the moments we shared before yoga class. She texted me around nine, asking if we were still going to have coffee together. I texted back an affirmative, but asked for an hour more with my newspaper. She sent me a thumbs up in reply.
At 10am, I kept my promise. When I came to her room to wake her she was already up. We stretched together. It’s a routine we started last Monday. I introduced the first session to her without warning. It was a half-baked experiment. She slept late every day … sometimes until the late afternoon. It worried me. Was she getting enough to eat? Was this depression? Was cancer returning?
So, Monday I made a plan to get her up. This can be a dangerous endeavor with Jordan. She does not take kindly to unplanned wake-up calls. But she takes one of her medications at 10am and I decided to add something extra when she downed the pill. I asked her to try a few stretches with me. She was not amused.
“Dad, let me sleep,” she whined.
But I told her I would only leave and let her sleep if she would do a few stretches with me. “You won’t even have to get out of bed,” I said. Reluctantly, she complied.
We reached for the ceiling. Then I had her fold forward and touch her toes. Finally, we circled our arms forward and backward. When it was done, I said, “that’s all. You can sleep now.” She dropped back onto her pillow and I quietly exited.
I hoped it would get her circulation going; that the tiny bit of movement would cue her body to wake. To hedge my bet, I left a cup of coffee at her bedside. She loves coffee. It was my backup plan.
A half hour later she called for me. When I came in she said, “you told me not to drink coffee on an empty stomach.” So, I made her breakfast.
She started her day at 11am that day. A victory! My diabolical plan worked. So, I did it again on Tuesday. And she was up and going by 10:30. Wednesday, she actually texted me shortly after 10am because I hadn’t come for her yet. “We need to do our stretches,” she said.
After we stretched today, I made her an egg-in-the-hole. I shaved a little Parmesan into the pan because it is her favorite. And she ate it all. We enjoyed two cups of coffee together. And then it was time for me to do yoga.
Maybe it was the contrast between the warm beginning and the disruptive middle of this morning that made me angry. But I cried when I realized she and I … and all of us in this house are so very lucky. It is a house brimful with love. Each of us does little things every day to show care and gratitude. This journey with cancer is accompanied by plenty of aggravation. But that bumpkin of a thought that interrupted my tantrum was correct. No one can care for her like me and Jeanette. And I wouldn’t want anyone else to have that privilege.