My gentle and soulful mother taught me to be graceful, which is also to say, not to say, anything, even when one is hurt or despairing or furious. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This, she learned from her own mother; and so, they drank to muffle their pain, while I turned mine into migraines.
My charismatic and successful father taught me to persist past personal limits, to ignore boundaries, to transcend all feelings–temperature, hunger, sadness. To be devoid of them, in fact. Except for anger. Which was his alone. And when life couldn’t be avoided, to work. To work. To work. Like his father and his father before him. And so, I lost touch with myself, and became solely a figment of my mind, unaware of needs beyond thought, of identity beyond work, of living beyond performance.
It took me years to unlearn what my parents bestowed. Years with a gentle husband. A talented therapist. Loving children. Good friends.
It took my mother’s grace and my father’s persistence for me to finally find my way to…
I begin my day
in the Shadowbrook Room
at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Healing.
Just before 6:30 am, the room fills with soon-to-be Let Your Yoga Dance instructors
who take their place on the mats
in front of me.
I guide them in a series of warming, and then strengthening, poses
before inviting these warriors onto their backs,
into the 4th chakra,
the sweet pause,
the heart–of a Let Your Yoga Dance class.
They bring their knees to chest,
roll to one side,
and breathe deeply, in and out,
In and out.
When I look out over the room,
I tell them that I see in them a sea
“Let Your Yoga Dance babies–
Readying to be born,” I say.
There are a few giggles in response,
and then these expand until the laughter
rolls across the belly
of this room
in a joyous chorus
We lift our legs into the air, Happy Baby,
just as the sun lifts over the mountain
birthing a new day;
and later, Pam tells me
what she now knows
(and what we all long to remember):
“It doesn’t have to be so hard.”
(Kelly is a certified Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, and serves on staff with founder Megha Nancy Buttenheim; she’s also on staff at Solar Hill Yoga Center in Brattleboro, Vermont, with founder/director Scott Willis, of Hits the Spot Yoga.)
I’ve spent this past week steeped in dental drama with an infection that wouldn’t quit; but as I resigned myself to the dentist’s chair, with a rubber dam prying open my mouth, and highly trained hands stuffed inside, it wasn’t just my own agony that preoccupied me, but that of those without dental care. Without insurance. Without access to a specialist and two assistants to provide the best outcome money can buy.
How long do they have to endure pain? What are their options? What must they give up in order to pay for it?
My husband is a teacher, but even with his benefits, my out of pocket expenses were estimated to be around $700.
What kind of coverage is that? Where do others find that kind of “co-pay”? How do they pay the rent after that?
As much as I didn’t want to be in that chair, I knew that I was a lucky one. I thought of all the people around the world whose pain is unattended.
I left with a heavy heart, a swollen mouth and a tighter wallet.
While I rested on the couch, one of my old students put this plea on Facebook:
Does anyone know where I can get a tooth pulled for cheap or free? I can’t fall asleep at night.
I felt his pain. I lived through it. But he couldn’t make a simple phone call and immediately get scheduled for a filling or a crown or an emergency root canal–like mine.
Stories like his were everywhere when I Googled options for treating my infection that didn’t involve any more procedures.
When I opened Yes! magazine, there were profiles of working people, living in poverty, whose minimum-wage-raise aspirations included the dentist.
Of those, the most heart rendering was this:
I might be able to get my teeth fixed. My three front teeth are broken. There’s a program with the VA that, for $50 a month, they’ll take care of everything. I just can’t afford that with what I’m making now. I still love America and the freedom that we have here.
I know there are dentists who volunteer their time for free at walk-in clinics and in their offices, but something isn’t right.
How do you live with the inequity? Do you comfort yourself by saying that these uninsured folks should get a better job? Go to college? Earn more money?
I can’t hide there. I live in a country with so much wealth, so much opportunity, and the inequities break my heart.
I have a secret. I have kept it for years. It is the kind of secret that you don’t dare tell, if not for fear of the possible consequences, for fear that no one will listen. Both outcomes are unwelcome and damaging in their own right.
My friends and I have shared this secret and all its grisly details over eager sips of coffee after long overnight shifts, our voices heightened in our rage and our exhaustion. I had hurriedly whispered conversations with my coworkers during hasty smoke breaks and bathroom trips. These were girls with whom I had nothing in common – save our employment and our secret. Sometimes we exploded. Sometimes we wept.
It is not that I am weary from this business of silence; I have not broken. But I realize now that I have no reason to let my anger lie dormant. The injustice has become unpalatable.