Eclipsing Pura Vida
A mosquito bite wells beneath the top of my hand. A growing artifact that plagues the skin and is common in Costa Rica. My veins pop out around the white heart of the bite and I beg my nails not to scratch the hot itch. I ruminate for a moment on the journey of this hand. It is what I use to write with, my tool that taps incessantly on an Apple keyboard and that builds something tangible out of the busyness of my mind. This hand has also packed and re-packed the necessary gear for my move abroad; discerning what stays, what goes and how to manipulate a year’s worth of clothing into two bags. These hands have hugged and loved the people in my wide circle as I go onward, and this hand has wiped many a tear from misty eyes during the break and re-build of getting to this perfect moment. I am not even out of the San Jose airport yet, but finally I have arrived and continue to arrive through all of the undefined feelings that are sure to find me in moments of vulnerability.
The southern Caribbean. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
I blink my swollen eyelids open, body stretched from corner to corner across the creamy linens, my Tascam audio recorder balances on the edge of the windowsill as I am documenting the sounds of la junga, capturing the cacophony of wildlife outside. The rage of the monkey’s screams mixes with the toucan’s call and in between their gasps for attention, you can hear the buzz of the cicadas that blurs the gap between species. Everything is ALIVE. Fat pieces of fruit drop from the tree above our bungalow, popping against the tin roof, keeping me aware of our environment, of where my breath is in that moment of surprise; something yoga has encouraged me to reflect on. When I open my eyes, I see that the drapes hanging in my treehouse, when looked at up-close, resemble the milk-white bark of Aspen trees that span my home state. The split striations that run the latitude of the tree are marked by discolorations and details of the fabric. I roll over to look out beyond my deciduous drapery to make sure the landscape outside isn’t of my dreams. The 100-foot vinery cascades over the hillsides that stretches from the SamaSati retreat down to the party city of Puerto Viejo, where restaurants and ex-pats flood the peninsula.
I was pulled to write tonight even though my entire body feels a weight that has never lingered this long before. It is like someone filled me with sand or stuffed water balloons into the spaces between my joints. My throbbing feet still reflect a 24-hour journey to get here and my hands are blown up so much that my silver rings are being pinched against skin. My face is beginning to relax, but my eyes are puffy like folded pillow cases, warmed from the heavy air, and enhanced by an exhaustion that my blue eyes can never hide. It is like a travel hangover mixed with the weight of a blanket crafted from the anxiety and overwhelm it took to get here. Am I sick? Am I allergic? I am discovering a new sensation of discomfort that yoga will surely push me out of and into something of less density. In the meantime, I will head to the hot tub and take the load off my feet and go discover what that consistent cracking noise is. It sounds like a young monkey, ripping into a guava or a watermelon, I imagine the skin splitting with ripe juice and the release of something delicious. I, too, wish to pop open like the tree fruit.
I wake up to the smell of spicy huevos and hot coffee that filters through my screen windows in the loft of the treehouse. The morning calls for 6:30 yoga and snacks of passionfruit, whose crisp shells open to seed pods that spray citrus into the air, I dive in with both hands and Larissa whispers, “Welcome to Costa Rica.” This was the first day of my teacher training, I was still weighted down with the feeling that something in my body was signifying something deeper than a time change, but the buzz of encountering a new study with a collective of women in the jungle had me focused on the journey at-hand.
In between our studies and buffets at the café, I was receiving a handful of phone calls from my father, but my service was dodgy and the digital connection up here is an afterthought. I checked Facebook quickly to see if I could satiate my social media thirst, and the very first thing I saw was my dad’s post. It was a message about my grandmother, Shirley, being unwell and preparing for her graceful transition out of this world, and there was an all caps memo for me, to call him immediately. This all too familiar anxiety of family distress caused a quake in my hands and a fat lump in my throat. When I got a hold of my aunt and my father, it was then that it made sense why my aches ran deeper than any sore traveling feet could know. They told me Grandma’s cancer was back. This time in her liver. One of the hardest places to tackle the disease, and one of the most painful. I felt that tinge of fear stem from my soles to my soul, because this woman, my grandmother and matriarch of the Hooson clan lives within the very bones that hold me up, and as hers weaken, mine seem to grow denser. In strength? In rebellion? Caused by an energetic intuition? I don’t know because this feels new. I wasn’t ready. I had just arrived, I had just written a letter to her, we exchanged notes via snail mail often, her recent words of support traced my brain before I jetted off to the jungle. She told me that she trusted me in her most recent letter, she told me I was supposed to be here. But this eruption of near-death carried me into tears and a heartbreak that left me alone. Alone with a grief that my idol, my icon, and last grandparent was getting ready for her earthly departure…that unknowing place that she is preparing for, I hope at the very least brings her body some peace.
I was alone. And I felt unequivocally ridden with sorrow because I could not be there, because when it comes to family, I always am. If I wasn’t separated between a five-hour bus ride to San Jose followed by a 5-hour plane ride to New York, then I would be there, I would be on stand-by for the quickest flight out, because that is what our family does. But no, I was here, surrounded by the heartbeat of a foreign landscape, a yogi’s retreat where abundant vegan food and love from the on-site body workers and teachers were in plenty, but, as this reality seeped in through the spaces where my tears fell, I felt the jungle close in—real tight—and the humidity became dense around my limbs while the birds belched from their perches with aggravation. It was not where I wanted to be. There was not one day in my life where I imagined my grandmother not a part of my life, because despite our distance, she has always been here. Nor did I imagine the day where I wouldn’t be a part of this process, I never thought I would be too far to be a part of this stage of life for anyone who occupies my heart with such magnitude.
But alas, the journey of the traveler reveals a distance in space and time from those few people who hold your vulnerabilities and your strengths in the place where you call home, and those invisible borders can feel like steel walls when you have crossed the line from a native to a nomad.
This was my darkness eclipsing my light in a place I would have to call home during the grief from a woman I have loved unconditionally for as long as my recollection can see.
The following 24-hours would be spent holding onto a pain in my emotional body that manifested itself physically. I would spend my time in class, inverted against the wall and bent in humble warrior, but my heart would be occupied, processing moments of grief in the presence of strangers. And I just didn’t know how to tell them. So, I waited. I waited almost a full day before announcing this news to my teacher and fellow students. I stumbled through breakfast and through walks with the other yogis and during brief exchanges with my roommate. I waited until Stephanie (Goo), our yoga teacher, held our first gathering together. She lit the tea candles in the Sala de la Luna studio where a symphonic rumble of rain and jungle life reverberated through the room. She told us to pull our mats closer, it was just the four of us, only an elbows length from grazing one another. Our bodies heat caused a slight steam to rise from the wood floor. Goo looked across from me, where I sat adjacent to her teaching position and flanked by two young women who watched my profile form under the dimly lit space. Between the burning wax and scent of warm sandalwood, she looked at me and asked if I was OK. I told her I would be OK. That I was losing someone that I believed before was eternal, someone who loved me more than anyone, who taught me grace and humor in the most elegant body. And she was leaving us.
While my new friends sent me nothing but authentic love and empathy from their seats beside me as my swollen face leaked rivers of saltwater, Goo acknowledged my pain in the best way she knew how. And she told me that I may never be OK and that is OK. That this will always feel strange and I will miss her indefinitely. She asked me to speak her name out loud…”Shirley”…Her name came out of my mouth like pink strands of cursive, because even her name evokes class, it is said with a rhythmic melody, and is a nod to her birth in the 1920s. As I spoke of her, my voice bore the vulnerability of a new kitten, echoing throughout the illuminated studio and parsed between the wet heat between strangers. The French woman to my right, an international lawyer with fierce Mongolian eyes, told me she never had a family that loved her like my grandma loved me, and it is a truly beautiful and rare thing to have been loved this way. I could feel the weight of her words on my heart, I don’t know anything else than this, but through this woman’s eyes, I observed my own gratitude and the density it carried. Then the tears came heavy. The gentle woman to my left, who wears her scars on the outside, thanked me for sharing and told me she was so very sorry with one hand over her heart and those brown doe-eyes that said even more than her words did. Goo asked me if I was like Shirley. “We are similar in our sense of imagination and passion for the written word and we are different because she is a true lady, and I, a little wilder.” I told them that she was both a runway model and worked for Hospice, just a few of her vocations.
Above all, she taught me that I should follow my heart, stay honest, and act with kindness. She also showed me that it is ok to indulge your fantasies, whether that is in the books we read or the faraway places we explore. She showed me that writing can be the bridge to the divine and words are a weapon we should use wisely.
I folded my hands over my face, attempting to find composure as this truth of her departure became more real. I ached to be by her side. But between this circle of humans, huddled closer together than many good friends would sit, I felt the gap close between us, like maybe we could walk this grief together. I held my hand over my heart with the instinct to protect it, in the hopes that it would still be there even after another loss would leave me softer, more vulnerable than before. Because that is what death does. As one life eclipses, the others remaining have to find light on the bare floor with splayed arms above searching for the truth…that within death is where we find life. This finality of death is something we should learn to expect, perhaps warm up to the idea that it is the only promise, and it is just the when that we are unsure of.
In her fiery and genteel way, with a voice of equal parts affirmation and drama, Goo told me that this opening of my heartbreak to the group was a catalyst for connection, that she was grateful for this moment that allowed us all to forge an intimate community behind the doors of SamaSati. She was right. I have quickly become close with these women since last week. I am learning their stories, their own heartbreak, rejection, abuse, and self-destruction that traces their refined figures. They take my breath away when they bend into their advanced asanas with flexibility and poise.
Luckily, I found enough cell service to bond with my own family over phone calls, long texts, photos and through the audio recordings that my younger cousin has been sharing about grandma’s illustrious narrative that runs 87 years deep. As I connect to my tribe from abroad, I consider that perhaps this is the practice I came here for. To prepare to watch death unfold with grace as I find my footing in life, that maybe my purpose is to find peace some four thousand miles away from where I want to be, without the ability to reach out and feel the hands of my grandma. Instead, I let her sit with me in my sorrow and in the laughter over deep glasses of white wine, I just invite her in, to be a partner in this process with me. She really is here, in all ways, always.
Eclipsing the Darkness
The fermenting fruit outside my door are flooded with fire ants, the long kind that bite, and around the edges of my walkway poison dart frogs with turquoise backs and black spots dodge my foot work, the sticky air clings to my clothes, which stick to me, and the ache of wildlife can be smelled before it is seen; the monkey’s heady musk and the fat skunk that meanders between bungalows after dusk. Death and life are happening beneath the canopy out here, a steady flow of vibrancy seen in the rapid heartbeat of the hummingbird met with the stench of death from the mutilated mouse that Luna the cat brings to us in the early morning.
Since the recognition of my own pain, which I have refused to hide since I shared my story with the group, I have continued to flex the same muscles that have gone through the motions of death before and have begun to allow the jungle to be a place of healing instead of a place of entrapment. I now welcome the heat into my heart, warming up the edges where my aloneness previously cut sharply. Where the reek of wet dirt and tangled canopy once felt oppressive, I now embrace the aroma of wildflowers and the moss-covered sloths that slink around us, quietly finding their resting places where they hang above us frozen in time.
My daily practice of yoga, pranayama, meditation and chanting has extended me a hand to bridge my grief with gratitude. Goo leads us into Savasana, corpse pose, and she reminds us that every time we practice, we are celebrating our death, as this momentary class of asanas and breath work is preparing us for what is unavoidable. I let the tears wash down my face, collecting on the rubber mat beneath me that smells of sweat and sage, my shoulders shake and my face is on fire. This is my grief, this is the most beautiful and the most tragic duality of the human experience. I inhale with a big ujjayi breath—in through the nose—I exhale from my belly passing up into my ribs and through my chest and I as I fold to the side in the fetal position, with the support of my arm I cradle my face, and with the last breath of the practice, I release and I let her go.