Part-time teacher by day, security guard at my daughter Amelia’s basketball games by night. It’s extra cash to take Tai Chi classes, and what better place to practice a still mind than a loud gym?
The familiar rhythm of bouncing balls vibrates my folding chair. I glance at the clock, eight minutes for the quarter. I would settle in to watch, but I have this itch like an old mosquito bite.
Write the story.
I rub my neck and rifle around for a pen, urgency builds in my gut. The clock impatiently blinks seven minutes.
Here goes . . .
I collapsed on a dance floor last year. Ironically, I had just finished a novel about a teenager who collapses on a basketball court, diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Marfan, which stretches heart valves.
Coming to, I was surrounded by Mennonites. One of them, my friend, Liz, stood over me, yelling loudly over the music, “I thought that was a dance move!”
A few days later, my head still hurt, and a caterpillar-shaped scar throbbed over a pacemaker that the lighthearted salesman dubbed “Justin” as in “just in case.”
When I got home from the hospital, I pretended I could handle it for five minutes and then locked myself in my room, terrified, certain I was dying. I slid the blood pressure sleeve on every two minutes.
Sensing a biblical catastrophe, my friend Liz came with soft, navy blue pajamas and took me for a drive. She talked about fear—the uninvited guest trying to help us—thinks it’s protecting us. It’s not.
Liz counsels people with eating disorders. Dedicates her life to other people’s reconciliation with their bodies. Dedicated herself to me that afternoon while my mind spun.
When it got late, I didn’t want to leave the seat of her trashed car.
She pulled me out anyway and hugged me patiently. I walked heavily across the lawn. It took effort to pull my phone out of my pocket when it buzzed—Preethy, my dear spiritual friend had sent me a poem about gnats and a temple.
I suddenly remembered what she had taught me in her basement last fall. I was energy, and stagnant, negative energy just needs to move out of the way for positive energy to have room. Fear might be visiting, but she wouldn’t be staying. I was the one in charge, and Preethy had taught me what to do. Talk therapy only goes so far. I had to move my body in order to clear my mind.
I forced myself out to the backyard to practice what doesn’t have a name in English, but in Korean it’s called Suhaeng—a Korean movement.
In other words, shake. Tap. It’s so weird. But what did I have to lose?
I closed my eyes, letting a cool evening breeze tickle my puffy face. I let go of how people would think if they saw me, that I’d lost my mind. Ironically, that’s kind of how it works: letting go of all I think I am in order to take charge of me again and use this life way I want to.
I wanted my brain and my heart and my body to accept even this. I didn’t want to fight. I decided I wanted to see how heart failure can grow my soul.
But really, it looked like a seizure. A human hurricane. A rattling of the foundations.
I started gently, letting my knees bounce and my shoulders shake and hips circle around. It felt pretty good, so I vibrated my whole body, since heat and stimulation relaxes things, and when it felt right, I unleashed a storm. All the cells shook, heating up and sending my brain the message that I was not alone: Myo Yeon Mahn Wahn Mahn Rae Il Jong Mu Jong Il
All things come and go at all times. One is the end of all, and there is no ending to the One.
When I was empty, I sat down and breathing hard, felt my entire circulatory system buzz. I imagined fresh energy going into my lower abdomen with my slowing breath and felt my eyes and mouth begin to water. I was filled with a sense of vibrating life. My whole body tingled with energy. I touched my head, my chest, my stomach.
These were mine. My organs, everything—they’d done so much for me. I’d been given so much with this life on this planet.
Then my soul, like a sad violin, let go of fear with a pull of the bow across my heartstrings and slid across again pure and sweet and clean.
The buzzer blares for the end of the first half. I stand and stretch. I do that all the time now—stretch my body—stretch my brain. My heart.
“Check out our concession stand, folks!” Andy, our enthusiastic student aid-slash-sports announcer booms from the mic, and seconds later, “Under Pressure”—volume high—vibrates the gym walls. Brilliant David Bowie, calling for us to give love, give love, give love.
Soon the second half of Amelia’s game will start. The players will stride out refreshed, handling the balls with strength and confidence, laughing. They’ll shine.
When I get home tonight, I’ll do sit-ups and push-ups and hold a good pose to strengthen my butt muscles because I need to be strong on the bottom half for this half of my life. I’ll check in with my strong, 100 percent positive mind and be grateful for kicking butt today as a teacher and mother and wife and friend and sister and daughter. I already know I’ll take plenty of time to cry a little in gratitude for this me I get to be. I’ll shower and collapse into bed, happy, refreshed. I’ll tell my brain good news—I helped heal humanity today by healing myself.
Until then though, starting with a bunch of relish on a hot dog, I sit back and relax and watch my beauty, my youngest, play her heart out.
And I won’t worry about mine.