Today I substitute taught a class for my favourite teacher. Not only is she my favourite teacher, but her Friday Core class is my favourite class. Not just me though; she is a lot of people’s favourite teacher and Friday core is a lot of people’s favourite class, as indicated by its usual lack of available floor space due to the volume of mats. I felt honoured and excited to teach this class, but the reason for me subbing the class was omnipresent. You see, recently, the life of our favourite teacher and one of my role models was changed irrevocably by the sudden and unexpected death of her son.
Not only is she a beloved yoga teacher in town, but she is the owner of the only dedicated yoga studio. Her presence within the yoga community is well-known and her absence right now is palpable.
Prior to teaching today’s class, my inner dialogue debated if I should teach the same sequence that she always does, or should I change the class? Is it disrespectful to play the hallmark song of the 110 bicycles that we always do? The answers to these questions are not readily available and perhaps are not important. No matter what I do, our beloved teacher’s mat will be conspicuously empty. But nonetheless, we will do yoga in her absence and her instruction and anecdotes of wisdom will resonate.
For better or for worse, we live in a small town and here, we bear each other’s burdens. The fabric of our community is founded on interpersonal relationships. Within the community, we know each other by name, we know each other’s routines and we know each other’s families. When someone is suffering in our midst, we know about it and we feel it. Our community is not new to suffering, and each time tragedy occurs, we stoically bear each other’s burdens. We offer condolences, we share greeting cards, we buy flowers and we make lasagnas and pot pies for grieving families.
Whether or not any of this helps with the grieving process, I do not know. Personally, I have never met with grief, and I certainly cannot begin to understand a mother’s pain from losing her son. But I am a part of this strong community and I know that I want to help alleviate that pain.
Objectively, physically, there is nothing that we can do to help. Nothing heals except for time. How much time, who knows?
Prior to that unquantifiable amount of time, abstractly and philosophically the community can help with the pain of one of our members: individually we can cultivate strength, tranquility and patience and share those qualities with people around us.
We can continue to build our networks of support and care about and forgive one another. We can develop our community’s bonds and create an environment where support is available and compassion is abundant. Those among us who are suffering can know that the bonds of community are tenable against any tragedy. We can present an unbreakable front in a time of tragedy and hold fast against collapse.
“Individually we can cultivate strength, tranquility and patience and share those qualities with people around us”
It is possible that because we live in such a tightly knit community that we suffer more often. The upside of collective suffering is the available support for one another and the strength of the community to persevere through pain and tragedy. We have done it before.
So, on my mat at the helm of the fabled Friday Core class, I chose to emulate the usual sequence. Our teacher isn’t here right now, but we will continue to do yoga in her absence. We will continue to support each other when we stumble and, together in the beautiful studio that she built, we will cultivate the strength, serenity and compassion which she skillfully weaves into her teaching. All of the qualities of the heart that she has shared with us through yoga will be compiled and sent her way to help her bravely persevere in the face of this tragedy.