For the first time since Covid quarantine has started I had a full (for corona times) week of teaching. Corona times, which sounds like it should be way more fun than it is, has left me with a sparse teaching schedule, but this past week I taught four nights in a row, all more than one hour, and three of four were well over two hours. What a long way my lungs have come; and though allergy response is heightened , and humidity the enemy, I felt strong, if a little tired after the week.
Stronger than the fatigue was the joy. This week in the studio was pure fun. After the precious week of some aggravation where a glitch stopped my Modern Dance Intensive in its tracks, I found a way to have a two day mini intensive, and give the dancers a sense of dancing all week. I did what I could, and let the aggravation go, a step of some proportion for me. I then decided to prepare the best two days I could, wanting to inspire the dancers who were willing to go with the modern intensive flow.
And God, it was fun. Mindful and challenging warm up, fun across the floor and some new things inspired by Standby, the social distance masterpiece by Paul Lightfoot of NDT. Shelley Ismail, friend, mentor, and ballet guru, had sent me the link, and was very adamant that I watch.
Watch I did, and the inspiration is off the charts, 40 minutes of brilliance with the last ten minutes a climax of humor, technical fireworks and sheer beauty. My dancers were so excited that I spent the next afternoon transposing the choreography so I could teach it that evening, and the energy of the girls was amazing. Once again, I saw the plain truth of life, most of the time, the more you give the more you get.
Is it Karma, is it physics who knows, but the first half of the week was energetic gold. I put all my considerable attention to class planning, yoga certification, gardening, meditating, and spending quality off screen time with my husband. All the aggravations were still present but somehow seemed smaller, the power of attention given creating good work, and I was reminded so strongly of my childhood and the kind of constant praying my mother did. No matter what time I got up my mom Maria was already praying. I realize now she didn’t sleep much. The one constant balm during her abusive childhood was faith, and the use of prayer as a mental salve. Until recently, Maria went to church every day; some days, twice a day. We were taught to invoke the Saints for special intentions, and St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things was the go to guy. We were always losing things, and my mother’s car keys seemed to take malicious delight in always being in the most random places. St. Anthony always came through. It wasn’t till I was much older that I made the big mental leap that perhaps we found things because we keep looking; yet, I still will send a quick prayer when I lose things. The summer I turned eight, the summer before third grade, I really realized the profound power of prayer and mindfulness.
At the Academy of St Joseph(ASJ), first and second grades had been a joyful mix of old fashioned academics, mixed in with guitar playing, singing nuns. Yes we had plenty of rote memorization and repetition, (which I believe is the reason I can actually do math), but we also sang, danced, painted, wrote stories and had a blast. Third grade had the spector of an old school nun hanging over our heads. No young nun like Sister Joanna and Sister Catherine; an ancient and scary pre Vatican 2 nun.... let’s call her Sister Immaculata Terrifying. When sister Immaculata was on lunch duty, the silence was deafening, the smiles rare, and childish giggles non existent. She was the third grade teacher, the only third grade teacher.
As second grade ended, the dread was terrible. Nothing could be done, except pray. In second grade Catholics receive their first Holy Communion, and at ASJ, the preparation was intense. I was well aware the difference between good prayer and wrongful use of prayer (prayer for personal gain). Sister Immaculata seemed to be a grey area. So every night before sleeping I prayed she would not be our teacher. When I thought of it during the day I put my mind to the task of figuring out coping mechanisms for her classroom. It was a summer project of mindfulness. As August drew near I ramped it up, adding the occasional rosary. Finally, a few weeks before the school year started we got the text book list and teacher assignment: Sister Immaculata. As we covered those books in brown paper, I tired to accept that my prayers had been answered, it just wasn’t the answer I wanted. Stoic, with books ready, uniforms clean and ready in my closet, new shoes still in their box, I tried to tell myself it wouldn’t be too bad. I had made lists of ways to get through the year. Studying hard, yet being quiet, an invisible good student, drawing neither wrath nor praise, maybe volunteering for the chalk board duty, or helping out with younger kids. I would make it through... and then, a miracle.
A week before school started, my parents received a letter saying that we would unfortunately have a lay (non religious) teacher this coming school year. A young woman, recently graduated, would be taking over. Sister Immaculata had died. My mother was upset, she loved the nuns, and often told us her biggest mistake was not entering a convent. I tried to arrange my face into anything but the glee it felt, tried my darnedest to look appropriately sad. I think I even said something like she is probably in heaven now.... even though I knew that she most definitely was not there. All I knew was the prayer thing worked. I felt not a shred of guilt, I hadn’t prayed for death, just retirement, but the Lord works in mysterious ways lol.
It set me on a path of thinking about what I wanted and praying on it. I had somehow already been taught that prayer without work was meaningless, so I leaned towards praying for help in the work I was doing or in solving my problems. Wrongful prayer was prayer for self gain with nothing offered, prayer with action was encouraged. And I believed it because third grade can only be described as groovy. Long haired teacher with headband, shorter skirts, tights and Frye boots, a great listener and story teller, third grade went by in a breeze of seventies Idealism.
I see now that I was trained in the power of mindfulness. It informed me in ways that I couldn’t place until I started studying yoga and mediation; and then really hit home after starting to practice Buddhism after my first husband died. Intention is everything. True effort brings true rewards, or the ability to accept what doesn’t go the way one hopes.
Nearly my whole week was a beautiful one, every class going so well, parents of students sending lovely text messages thanking me for class, and every dancer so positive, (there is something to be said for having had class taken away, each class, seems to have an aura of gratitude infusing it). My garden is gorgeous, my dog adorable and Don and I, in a groove, life was very good.
And then.... a Saturday full of abject failure and aggravation. A plan of action perfectly thought out, blocked, and gifts thrown back unwanted and unappreciated. The story of Maria and the fight against old age and acceptance continues. Suffering and complaining about the heat wave, we arranged an air conditioning unit to delivered. On the same day Lori, my oldest niece would arrive with groceries and a medical alert system. A nice day of lunch, peace of mind and cool air would ensue. Gift of air conditioner refused. Sitting under the ceiling fan with another fan in front of Maria was good enough. When I told her that every day she told me how hot she was, and that she couldn’t complain about the heat ever again, Maria replied, “Then don’t ask me how I am if you don’t want to know”. She went on to say that she hates air conditioning and never asked for it, (and this I must admit is true).
Maria did not want to go out as there was a Yankee double header on television. Lori did not psychically know my mother was out of mints and was uninterested in the groceries because of that horrible lack of mintage. And since she had not fallen down, (that fall has been erased), there was no need for the medical alert necklace. Lori installed a unit in the bath and living areas anyway, so a little less worry, but the chance of Maria wearing the alert necklace is slim to none. I begged, nagged, berated, wheedled, all to no avail.
For about two hours I was livid. My sister Amy and I commiserated, I took the adorable Hooper for a walk and then sat in my meditation garden and contemplated the epic fail of Operation Maria. What I came to was this, while the outcome was not what I wanted, everything had the intention of love and care. My mom knew we were trying to help, she just didn’t want it, and in no way way felt obligated to take it. And this I know is the great lesson of life. Do everything with love, attention and intention; hope for the best, but have no attachment to outcome. The effort is the way, the old cliche of the journey being the reward is a cliche for a reason.
So this week, I will teach my beautiful students, take care of my blooming garden and be present for friends and family, and feel the joy that those efforts bring me. As far as Maria, I will keep hoping, and try to remember that she is just as mindfully and powerfully working to keep her life the same. What we consider loving help is being seen as unwanted intrusion; perception is reality. So maybe I need to call on the big Kahuna, St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes. It can’t hurt. Of course, Jude might already be busy helping Maria. She does seem to have super powers resisting any measure of help. So here’s to a week of intention and love in all things, and the graceful acceptance of whatever happens.