In the temple of your own body,
within the heart is a lotus flower.
Within the lotus is an illuminated jewel space.
Find who dwells in this precious space within your heart.
Know that person, love that being.
That is you.
Five years ago today my brother Keith died. That same year the radio station where I work did a programming stunt where they were collecting the public’s most memorable musical moments. This is what I submitted as my moment:
It was January 20, 2007. I was in a room on the oncology floor at HUP where my two younger sisters and I had spent nearly every minute of the past two weeks. We were vigilantly watching over our younger brother Keith, desperate to keep him from losing his five-month battle with stage-four lymphoma.
Over his 38 years, anyone who ever knew Keith discovered he had a passion for “his music.” It wasn’t just that he had a vast collection of songs and artists he favored. It was about how he interacted with his music. He assembled it in ways that were meaningful to him, creating and recording song compilations to chronicle his life events. He consulted it daily quoting from 70s pop lyrics as his way of commenting on what was going on around him. He depended on it finding strength in songs as he did in Olivia Newton John’s “Never Gonna Give In To It” which he knew she wrote battling her own illness.
The iPod next to Keith’s bed was his constant companion throughout his lengthy hospital stays. This week we kept it on nonstop to ensure that his music would be playing during those occasional periods, either night or day, when he was lucid. Bored with the current song, I took the iPod out of the docking station and began searching the menus. Keith was resting and my sisters were entertaining themselves with their “Lucy and Ethel-esqe” banter and occasional (but always off-key) outburst of song.
After glancing at the player in my hand, Kelly decidedly turned to Keith and asked, “Is there a favorite song you’ve always liked to sing to?” Keith replied by simply reaching for the iPod. Since Christmas, his voice had been constantly hoarse and he had to strain to keep it above a whisper. I placed the device in his hand. He deftly navigated the click wheel, maneuvering through the playlists guided only by a sliver of his left eye, the right one swollen shut from the latest infection. It wasn’t long before a look of satisfaction fell over him. He handed back the iPod gesturing to have me return it to its cradle. What would it be? Was it that Donna Summer tune he knew made Kelly cringe whenever she heard the breathy “oh, love to love you baby?” Something from Madonna? He owned everything but favored her less popular late ’90s period. Or maybe it was an Elvis tune, like the ones we could sing to for hours more than 30 years ago during our Saturday morning cleanings with mom.
As the opening line of ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” filled the room, I was startled by what I also heard. It was my brother. He was singing. His voice was clear. It was strong. And it was magic. Eyeing each other acknowledging the awe we each felt, Kelly, Kay and I instinctively joined him. Through the tears, we belted out the haunting fourth line “Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye.”
As close as we had been all our lives, for the next three and a half minutes we were united more tightly than ever in my brother’s swan song. With each note, we confronted what we feared most. Little time remained for us to be “The Four K’s”, a title that had banded us since childhood. The baby of our family who we fawned over since birth, the kid who amazed us with his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and music, the young man who brought us sidesplitting laughter, and the grown brother who brought levity to every family crisis including his own illness, would leave us forever only two weeks later. Keith’s final gift to his sisters will forever remain my most cherished musical moment.“No more carefree laughter
Silence ever after
Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes
Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye” See the Memorial Book for Keith with photos and select lyrics.
I love this poem by John O’Donahue. A wonderful reminder that every day is a new beginning. Namaste – K.
A Morning Offering I bless the night that nourished my heart To set the ghosts of longing free Into the flow and figure of dream That went to harvest from the dark Bread for the hunger no one sees. All that is eternal in me Welcome the wonder of this day. The field of brightness it creates Offering time for each thing To arise and illuminate. I place on the altar of dawn, The quiet loyalty of breath. The tent of thought where I shelter, Wave of desire I am shore to And all beauty drawn to the eye. May my mind come alive today To the invisible geography That invites me to new frontiers, To break the dead shell of yesterdays, To risk being disturbed and changed. May I have the courage today To live the life that I would love, To postpone my dream no longer But to do at last what I came here for And waste my heart on fear no more.
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It was a Monday in August after I returned from vacation when I began experiencing pain from a pinched nerve in the C8-T1 area of my spine. At first it simply felt like I had an overworked or tight muscle behind the shoulder-blade. Then came an ache in my triceps and forearm. Within a couple of weeks, I was in near constant pain that at times was unbearable. Working at a computer and driving a car aggravated the symptoms. It hurt to lay down. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess.
I began work with an amazing physical therapist, Dr. Glynn Hunt, who I knew could help me but the first couple of weeks was a confusing time. I was pain-free while I did yoga and weight trained. But the pain resumed as soon as I stopped. Once I realized that the pain often escalated the morning following these workouts, I decided it was time to stop everything that might be interfering with the healing and just focus on my therapy.
Fast forward to today, and thanks to Glynn I am gradually recovering and have been free of pain and numbness for a week. I’m feeling strong enough to get back to this blog and realize that I have some lessons to share about what I’ve learned during this time.
Being a yoga instructor, I felt like I should have been immune to a neck/back injury – isn’t yoga supposed to help create a healthy back? Had I fallen into a trap of believing that yoga is the ‘be-all-end-all” for backs? Yeah I think I had – and that was my mistake. While yoga does offer tremendous benefits to the spine and can offer therapeutic support in recovering from an injury, it was simply foolish to think that it can make someone totally immune to injury. In fact there were a number of things that contributed to my back injury:
- I had injured my shoulder four years ago and had only recently recovered full mobility through regular yoga practice so the area was already vulnerable.
- I had spent an increasing number of hours each week in the car and had just spent about 12 hours in one day as I traveled back from my vacation – most of this time with my body in some contorted position or with my hands clenched on the steering wheel.
- I had all but abandoned my personal yoga practice as I was spending more and more time teaching. (Demonstrating while teaching is not the same as practicing.)
- And what may be the most significant thing that affected me is something I’m planning to write in upcoming post…