It’s early morning. Like really early morning. Four o’clock AM to be exact. These days, I’ve taken to waking up extra early to try and get in a yoga session before the frenzied world awakens from slumber. I’m an early riser by habit, not by nature. In times past, my preference would have been to stay tucked into bed, slumbering until the sunlight streaming in the window roused me naturally. These days, my perspective has shifted, and I’ve become in tune to an existence that begins before the sun has risen.
It’s been thirty-seven days since I got my prognosis. It’s been thirty-one days since I took up yoga. I look back now, over a month since my diagnosis, and I know that not only am I a different person than I used to be, I want to be a different person than I used to be. It’s never that I wasn’t an okay person before. I was pretty typical. I worked a job with long hours. When I was home, my attention was diverted elsewhere. There was always something to do – the grass needed cutting, the dogs needed walking, there were errands to be run, there were medical appointments to attend, etc., etc. I was no different than anyone else really. In short, life was busy, I was busy. The diagnosis changed all that. In the blink of an eye, time suddenly became finite; a precious resource in perilous danger of running out.
“What are you going to do now?” The question inevitably they all ask me when I sit them down and tell them the news. It doesn’t matter who, friends, family, co-workers, they all ask. What they may not realize is that what they are really seeking is the answer to the question, “what do you do when you know your time is running out?” My answer likely always leaves them unsatisfied, “I don’t know. Just live my life I guess?”
“What does that even mean?” the reply from my friend Mitch comes when I give him my overused, cliché answer. Mitch, someone I have always been able to bank on to hold me accountable for the things I’ve said, is no stranger to calling my bullshit. He knows when I’m copping out. He knows this answer that I’ve just given him is an avoidance of the real answer.
“You’re right,” I acknowledge, “I don’t really know what it means.”
I grew up with Mitch. When we were young, we were close. He was my best friend, but then we graduated high school, met our wives and started having children, and drifted apart. His job took him on a cross-country move about ten years ago. My health kept me grounded largely to the area where my doctors were accessible. We promised we’d always keep in touch, but, the truth is, we didn’t always do a good job of it. Sure, we text and call once in a while, and we always do lunch when he’s back in the area on business. We still enjoy getting a beer together every Christmas when he’s home visiting family. Our friendship, a relationship forged on years of history, has devolved into a handful of phone calls and a couple of casual meetups each year. Yet when I heard the news, I knew it was Mitch that I needed to talk to. I knew, like so many times in the past, it was his special brand of no-nonsense, grounded to the earth, good solid advice that I needed to hear.
“Have you ever tried yoga? he asks me.
“No, but you’re not the only one who has suggested it,” I reply thoughtfully.
“It’s big out here,” he says, referring to the laid back, hang-ten lifestyle he has adopted since moving to his new location on the west coast. “I started doing it a few years ago, it helps me manage stress.”
Again, I say, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” This time, I pause to think about it. Maybe there is something to this? Maybe it’s worth trying. I know that what I need now more than anything is a little clarity and stillness in my ever-racing mind.
There is a little yoga studio in my town. It’s tucked away in the far corner of an old turn-of-the-century commercial bakery, converted to a now artistic network of small stores, cafes, and the studio. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. This small, but quaint studio boasts on a sign out front that “Mindfulness Can Be Found Within”. I’m afraid to go in. I don’t want to be ‘that dying guy who is grasping at straws in search of something more before he cashes in his chips’. I’m afraid of being exactly what I am. I open the door to the studio, look around, and the anxiety begins pounding on my brain, begging my legs to turn and run, run from this place, far, fast, NOW. But I move forward instead. I’ve brought along Emily. My friend, my support, and in this moment, the only person keeping me from bolting out the door and down the street.
“What are you afraid of?” she asks, calm, supportive.
“That I can’t do this,” I reply, half in anguish, half in resigned despair. I know, and so does Emily, that deep down inside, I’m talking about something much greater than yoga. I’m talking about doing THIS, life, living, dying…. I can’t do this. She puts her arms around me and we stand still, locked in a hug. It feels like an eternity but is less than a minute in reality. The strange dichotomy that defines time is so prevalent in that hug, where a minute can feel like a lifetime, but a lifetime can be gone in a moment. “Let’s do this,” I say while pulling away, and we do.
I fumble my way through the downward dog, twisting triangle, plank, and pigeon. I’m terrible, truly, but it doesn’t take long before the focused energy runs through my body and I no longer care about anything but how good the air feels as it moves in and out of my tired, achy lungs, and how my muscles shake with adrenaline instead of agony. For a while, and for the first time since the diagnosis, I don’t care about anything but the moment. This moment.
The class is done, I’m tired, sweaty, and completely satisfied. I look over to Emily – my yoga sidekick – “I did it,” I say with a smile as wide as the room. She nods in acknowledgment, with something that almost resembles pride in her eyes. “You did it,” she repeats.
We gather our things and prepare to leave the studio. The instructor comes up to us as we’re about to push through the door. “Nice to have you join us today, will we see you again?” she asks. For a brief moment, I introspectively scan my subconscious and come up wanting. I want more. I want to pause time. I want to feel my body move and my bare feet touch the floor. I want to feel the sweat drip down my forehead, and the warm yoga studio air embracing my skin. I want yoga. I want life. “You will,” I answer her question, grin impishly and leave the studio with a wave of my hand. Before the door closes I say, “See you later.” There are no goodbyes. I know this now. I feel it. There is time left. Whether that time is short or long, it doesn’t matter. What matters now is the moments left to fill that time with.
It’s four o’clock AM. I’m awake. I’m holding my toes in a forward bend. I could be in bed. I could be dreaming, warm and cozy under the covers, shielded from the winter, and my worries, and my fears. I could be… but I’m not.
What I am, is a drop in the bucket. One in a crowd of millions. We are all together on this earth, searching for something, living our lives the only way we know how. I am, at this moment, alone in a room practicing yoga, but it’s so much more than this. Through yoga, and good supportive friends, and loving family, I am uplifted and inspired. I am mindful of keeping an eye on my time, but, at these moments, I’m not consumed by it. Those occasions have their time and place, but in the moments where I do yoga, I’m okay with the changes I feel coming. I am okay knowing that my time will come. I am okay with everything. I’m here, right now, practicing yoga. In this moment, that’s all that I need.