One of my dearest friends, Jodi Hyde Forde, died instantly in a car accident last month. It was an honor to know and love her and an honor to be asked to share some thoughts at the Ohio memorial service last week. A few folks have asked me to share it in writing, and so I’m sharing it here, as it has more to do with true Yoga than any posture. May we all live a little more like Jodi, one of my favorite yogis, whether she was on or off her mat.
Jodi and I met in 2001, shortly after each one of us had moved to Seattle, her from Ohio and me from Maryland. She was an occupational therapist in the inner-city nursing facility where I was an end of life social worker. We were somewhat surrounded by burnt-out nurses and doctors without the time to make eye contact, so we stuck out to one another right off the bat. Two young and idealistic women, trying to change the world. We were friends throughout years where each of us came of age in various ways, and we supported each other through it all. She referred to me as “My Jessie,” and lingered in long, swaying hugs. Somehow that all began fifteen years ago.
We all have our own heavy story about how we learned of Jodi’s passing. Mine involved a phone conversation with her wife Jenelle, a huge tangle of shock and speechlessness, and eventually, me joining Jenelle in her tears. Towards the end of the conversation, Jenelle said that she’d wanted to call me herself because I was one of the first people Jodi had told her about, and she wanted me to know how much Jodi loved me.
The way that Jodi lived while she was here on this planet attracted to her many, many beloved friends—many “heart people” as she would’ve said. So while I may’ve been one of the first mentioned to Jenelle, the list was very long, and always growing. Jenelle would’ve had to have been on the phone for days to reach those of us who felt a strong connection to Jodi. Jodi was all about strong connections. Strong connections were her “thing.”
I could talk today about how bright she was, or how driven she was in her career. I could talk about what an important activist she was, fighting for women’s rights, marriage equality and other issues of social justice. But what I’d rather talk about today is how Jodi made us feel. Maya Angelou, wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, and people will forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” If this is true, then Jodi’s life was a complete success.
Jodi’s friend Karin Powers describes Jodi as someone who “treated everyone as a near and dear friend that she just hadn’t met yet” and that hits the nail on the head. Some of us humans operate, either knowingly or less consciously, as though others need to prove themselves before we can love them. Many are slow to warm, slow to trust—it’s kind of “guilty until proven innocent” thing. And while there are plenty of understandable reasons for that caution and guardedness, it tells everyone else that they have to go first. “You be open and generous first, and then maybe you can earn my love.” Which, of course, isn’t particularly encouraging of others to want to join with us, and so many of us stay stuck in our isolated little worlds. Jodi was the complete opposite; she showed up to situations with love. She was strong enough to be vulnerable, and wise enough to be open. She looked into others so deeply, with curiosity, with compassion…with a rare and precious presence. She saw each one of us as a piece of Divine light, as already lovable, and already worthy. And when the Divine light within each of us is seen, it emerges, and it grows. In a very real way, Jodi helped to grow the very best parts of us.
The leader of Jodi’s Life Coaching program, Deborah Drake, describes Jodi as “a being of light, joy and possibility. Each time I saw her she brought warmth to the space she occupied.” This warmth drew out the kindest and purest parts of each one of us who were lucky enough to be beheld by Jodi. As the last couple of weeks have unfolded, the common thread running through the varied stories of remembrance is this attention, this focus, this love that she brought to interactions large and small.
And so…we feel the loss. There’s nothing I can say to take away your pain—or mine. Not as a psychotherapist, not as a teacher of meditation and yoga, not as a friend to this community. I can’t talk anyone out of their their suffering, and in fact I think it would be disrespectful to try. But I can share two things that could perhaps just offer a fragment of comfort, and I think they’d be things that Jodi would want me to share. The first is that Jodi can still be experienced. An old friend of Jodi’s, Kristen Hunt, wrote that her heart “cries a river, but a strange unknown song of grief and joy meld to pay…homage.” Kristen encourages us to “lean into the long rays of Jodi’s eternal love and light.” I think that is just so beautiful, and so apt—Jodi as sun. It reminds us that we can not only celebrate her, but we can also allow ourselves to be imprinted by her strong, bright energy, so that she can live on through each one of us. Just open up to her—to her smile, her attention, her lust for life, her fight for a better world—and sense what you feel coming through.
The second thing that could perhaps just offer a seed of comfort is that while we all suffer at certain times in our lives, sometimes tremendously; this is a huge part of how we evolve, how we grow, how find compassion for other beings, how we learn to lend an authentic heart to others in their suffering—ironically, to be a bit more like Jodi. Periods of acute pain like this will ease—for each one of us in our own time—and soften into a wider heart, with a deeper respect for each moment while we have it. I sometimes think of each one of us as a well. The bottom of that well drops deeper when we experience a loss like this. Some of us might even fear that this dropping will be the end of us—it might feel like a falling that we won’t survive. But slowly, it is this depth which adds to our own depth: our own depth of capacity to sit with others in their pain, our depth of generosity, our depth of compassion.
In closure, I’ll return to that phone call I got, with the terrible news. When Jenelle explained how much Jodi had loved me, I found myself saying “I know.” It was all I could say. I already knew. Jodi had always made it very clear; I felt it. Later that day, I shared the news with an old friend who was staying with me from abroad. This friend had shared my wedding week with Jodi, and had met her once or twice beyond that. When I said “you know, she loved you,” this friend said “yeah…I know…I didn’t even really deserve it…I didn’t know her super well, but I felt it.” That night, Jodi’s sister Jill emailed me to say how much Jodi adored my family. When I shared this with my husband, his response was “I know, I know…”
And so I’d like to ask each one of you, in earnest: do all the people that you love, know? Do they know how much? Do they know the details of why? And if not, what are you going to do about it? Furthermore, as you move forward in your life, could you bring love to brand new relationships? Could you bring it right off the bat? Could you look for the Divine spark, even if it feels like a needle in a haystack, and in that process, help to grow the goodness of others?
If you loved Jodi, honor her. Honor her by being more like her. Let her live on through you in this way—with those you know well, and with those you know less well. Choose love over fear. Hold your judgements very lightly. Make eye contact, and smile. Be warm. Hug, kiss. Respect others simply because they are life. Do this all because it’s the right thing to do, not with any expectation of reward. We don’t get to know many lives we touch by how we show up in life, but times like this help us to appreciate that we certainly should show up well while we still can.
So, Jodi, I’ll turn to you directly now, my beloved friend. Thank you…for all that you brought, all that you were, all that you are. I love you…we love you. Your work now is to rise to the highest possible realms, and continue the Divine work you did while you were here with us. We are better for having known you, and we will endure this loss. May you inspire us care for one another in our grief, recognizing that we all grieve differently. May you help us return to love, and away from anger and fear, again and again and again. May each tear that falls in your name, fuel your journey upwards and may each warm memory guide you to ascend. Be free, my love. Be free.