When I was 19 and in college ( a period of my life defined primarily by total narcissism and frequently employed eye-rolls) my mother returned to the career she’d given up years earlier to raise children. When I was 19 my mother became a flight attendant.
She was in her late forties. This decision required her to return to “flight attendant school” and live in a dormitory for six weeks while learning airport codes and plane configurations.
Were I a better child (a better person, for that matter) I would have been excited for her.
I was, instead, appalled. It struck me as about as lame a thing as a person could do…I was knee deep in university and hell bent on notions of coolness and success…air hostess did not, in any way, fit into my idea of who I wanted to be or who I wanted to be related to.
Additionally, I did not welcome situations where-in I was forced to regard my mother as an actual human being…someone with abilities and dreams beyond that which pertained to her role as my primary care giver. (Again, I was not such a nice kid back then…not the delightful ray of sunshine I am today…shut up…stop laughing…I am so.)
You can imagine the utter lack of sympathy and garden variety disgust that I met her voicemails with…I’d come home from school (and my pretentious ideas about life and myself) and be met with messages from my mom about her suspicions that her roommate was using her perfume…about how she was taking all the younger girls to the mall over the weekend…about how her new friend Kathy, from Maryland, had failed her CPR test and would be required to do a make up. She was giddy, my mom, liberated by a future of hard labor, moderate pay, and uniforms.
I didn’t understand at all. Had she called and announced she was going to be a tattoo artist, a philosopher, a poet, a lawyer…well, that would have been different…those are all either cool things or well paid things. Things worthy of doing…society will back me up on that.
(okay, in my defense, I have to add that when I told my parents I was coming here and doing this it was received with the monosyllabic, confused question…”why?” Not even “what” as if they hadn’t understood…but “why” as in “we totally understood what you said and still don’t get it….” They later fleshed out a heftier, more introspective question: “you’ll make HOW much?”)
Returning to my story:
The real kicker was when my dad called and informed me that I’d be required to come home for her “graduation”. Yes, graduation. From flight attendant school. For which we would be required to “dress up”.
When I arrived back in Texas for the big event, I behaved with characteristic disinterest.
My entire family ( I am from one of those clans that gather for everything) shuttled off to a conference room at DFW airport for the big event. As we sat there in folding chairs I did my best not to laugh. The soon-to-be-attendants were lined up in the back of the room waiting to individually approach the small staged area in front and have their wings pinned on their new uniforms. I was holding it together fairly well until they blasted the Bette Midler song “Wind Beneath My Wings” through the speakers. A new level of ridiculous had been summited and I feared I would urinate on myself. With that, I began violently clenching my jaw to keep the impending gales of utter mockery and laughter from escaping me.
As they worked their way up to the last names beginning with the letter “V”, my mother slowly approached the entrance.
She walked up the center aisle and stood in front of us to have her tiny silver wings attached to her lapel. She stood there unfamiliar to me. Unfamiliar because she was teeming with the pride of accomplishment…a success unrelated to anyone else, a success unrelated to anything other than the thing itself. However large, however small. And, suddenly, it didn’t matter anymore what classification of accomplishment it was. It didn’t matter what it paid or what you had to wear doing it… Suddenly, I was clenching my jaw not to hold in a terrific need to laugh, but to hold in an avalanche of emotion.
There’s just something about accomplishment that gets me every time...something about the courage that must preceed accomplishment…must pave the way for it. Probably it moves me because I admire it, because I fear I have a deficit of it. I’ve been alive for 34 evolutions of the planet around the sun and, if you ask me, I have employed painfully little courage in that time. I let all kinds of things pass me by. I have closets full of aspirations and dreams that sit, stagnate, waiting for action, waiting for bravery…waiting for a guarantee that I’ll succeed rather than fail…a guarantee that rejection isn’t right around that mysterious unknown corner. Maybe everyone feels this way in moments. I don't know.
Anyhow, I recount that queer event from my queer life because, at that time, I was certain of nothing save the fact that I would never be my mom. I’d never find myself in a dorm, with a roommate, as a grown woman, learning airport codes, with the promise of practically no money.
I am in a hotel, with a roommate, as a grown woman, learning dialogue, with the promise of practically no money.
I was home last year for Christmas and I opened this drawer in my mother’s dresser.
It was jam packed and overflowing with letters passengers had written to her company about the great job she had done. Seriously, there were hundreds.
And its not like she single handedly saved someone’s life or helped them secure a million dollar deal…she probably procured their beverage of choice…made sure they got their pre-ordered kosher meal…she just did the job she was put upon to do really well and with a genuine interest in the person she was doing it for.
My mom will probably never do hatha yoga. It would mess up her hair. But hatha yoga is only a small part of yoga. Its just the physical part. The deeper practice, raja yoga, is the mental practice…the fulfillment of one’s duty. It is contributing to the collective human experience with one’s singular devotion and talent.
And when it comes to raja yoga…my mother is a master. I might have to get her some speedos and a head set.
So, today will be a big celebration of accomplishment.
I don’t mean to be overly simplistic. There are any number of question-marks in our student body. Not all of us will be great yoga teachers. Some will suck. Some won’t even really try (some haven’t really tried here). Some will be okay at it.
And some will be fantastic. Fantastic.
Right now, its anyone’s guess which group any of us will fall into. I suppose, ultimately, its whichever of those things we, ourselves, decide to be.
I feel pretty sure that some of these kids will be my mom.
The hard part of anything isn’t doing it…the hard part is doing it with a modicum of heart and modesty.
The hard part is doing it again when you didn’t do it so well the first time.
And it is statistically improbable that any of us will do it well the first time......
Anyhoo, enough with the sappy soliloquy …we have a graduation ceremony today. An actual graduation ceremony.
From yoga college. And we are required to dress up. Rumor has it that some of the cute yogis have actually been out shopping for formal wear for this event. Like fancy gowns and such. I’m laughing and loving it already.
And while I have grown and matured since my college days…I didn’t have a lobotomy…I’m still me. I will still—mark my words—be cataloging corny jokes and slight observations in my head about the entire blessed ceremony! I’m pretty damn sure it will be ripe with comedy. How could it not be? And lest I sound unmoved by the experience...please know that 'funny' (in the thesarus of my life) is a synonym for 'beautiful'.
All week, as we slowly gathered for our remaining evening lectures, they've been showing old tapes of Bikram when he first arrived in the States..first began to introduce this 26 asana series to the Western world.
In each talk show clip or dated news story...he is stunningly himself...exactly as he is today...the mannerisms, the impetuosness, the brashness, the enthusiasm, the perfectionism.
It is almost surreal. Spellbinding.
And its really lovely, these small windows into the beginnings of this yoga that we all love and want to teach...it's easy to forget that it predated our introduction to it. It is impossible to view these clips without feeling the gravity...the feat of what one person managed to do in the span of only a few decades.
Thousands upon thousands of people do this yoga...in cultures for whom yoga is a relatively new concept.
Thousands upon thousands of people are made happy by it.
One of the videos is of an old show called "That's Incredible!!". It was a program that featured daring physical acts and shocking physical abilities...a youthful Bikram was on an episode having someone ride a motorcycle over his chest, unharmed...they would always end the program by having the audience, in unison, shout, "THAT'S INCREDIBLE!"
And I agree.