Many of you have heard this story by now; my shaken sharing has continued for weeks now—since October 18, to be exact. Here’s how it all begins: almost two weeks before that, my six-year old son Lucca climbs into the car after school and tells me he fell and hurt his finger playing Sharks and Minnows today. “It hurt A LOT,” he tells me. “I cried.” When I ask how it is now, he says it’s fine. When we get home I assess that he can move it, and while it does look somewhat swollen, I’m comforted by his lack of pain. This is a child who still howls upon Band-Aid removal and the like, so I feel certain that he’d be the first to let me know if he were seriously injured.
A week goes by without my thinking of it again, until I notice that the finger is still swollen. At this point, my husband and I ice it repeatedly, to no avail. We splint it, to no avail. We give an assorted concoction of homeopathics hourly, to no avail. Thirteen days have now passed: time to get it checked out, we tell Lucca. A morning later, the pediatrician writes a referral for an Xray appointment across town, where the nurse promptly reports “Yep, it’s broken.” My heart drops to my feet and my eyes well up from sorrow and shock. How could this be??? I am Lucca’s mother, his advocate, his biggest fan and his feircest protector. How could I have gone idly along, in and out of this many days, with my child’s ring finger dangling from the joint inside it’s skin? We get a referall for the Ortho doc, who can thankfully see us later that afternoon. I calm myself by taking it one step at a time. Maybe they’ll have to pop it back in place. Maybe he’ll need a fancier splint than the one we rigged of popsicle sticks and tape. There’s no way to know now. We’ll see.
Later that afternoon, we sit and wait for the hand specialist to come give us his views. We play games on my iPhone, we talk about upcoming adventures. It’s a long wait, and we grow hungry. I also grow more concerned; my self-soothing skills wear thin as afternoon shifts into early evening. Finally, the doc comes in, slides the Xray into the light board and tells us that we’re looking at “a pretty nasty break” that will need sugery as soon as possible. My stomach flips. My heart pounds; I try but can’t dam the surge of tears flooding into the spaces behind my eyes, my nose, my throat. He keeps talking, explaining that part of the bone splintered out of place during the fall, and describes incisions, pins, casts. I try to speak at various points but am completely unable to make a sound. He notices my distress and requests tissues from his assistant. I learn the surgery will be a bit gorier because I’ve waited so long to bring Lucca in. Instead of easily moving the bone into place for the insertion of the pins, they will now have to re-break the finger which has been healing at a wacky angle. There are waves for me to digest. I’ve increased the suffering of another. Of someone I love very much. I’ve increased the suffering of my own son. All the while, though, Lucca seems fine—listening along, alert, trusting of this man and his confidence. I hear myself repeat “I can’t believe I didn’t know,” and “I’m so sorry I waited,” but little by little, it feels as though it’s time to move through this murky guilt as quickly as I can, to be as brave as my son.
I can feel it: the choice to continue down the path of least resistance into dark matter, or the choice to move through it. Use the breath. Embody. Remember Yoga Philosophy. “What would Yoga do?” I ask myself. The answer came swiftly. Compassion. Find compassion. Compassion for yourself.
By the end of the appointment I allow myself to let in the reassurances from the doctor, his assistants, the nurses. As they wrap Lucca’s hand with bandages to protect him until surgery 48 hours later, they tell me about how few nerve endings there are in bone, and that we all go on a child’s report to assess severity. At one point, the doctor looks at Lucca and says “Will you turn to your mom and tell her it’s going to be okay?” It dawns on me that my six year old shouldn’t be taking care of me, so I let the kindness in. I feel the pull of “responsibility,” but tell myself kindly that I’ve learned all I need to here, and that self-flagellation will not actually make me a more responsible parent. I work to witness and allow the hard emotions without “becoming” them. On the way home, I buy Lucca ice cream. When he can’t decide between his two favorite flavors, I get both. Feelings come and go in waves for the next several hours, but I breathe, and they get smaller and smaller.
There is a Chinese proverb that says “You must dig the well before you are thirsty.” I am keenly aware that it is my ongoing yoga practice that has filled me with the self compassion that is available to me now, when I need it. That deep well of compassion informs me that we all do the very best we can with the information and skills we have. I know that I adore my son. I know that I’ve learned something new about bones. I know that I’m as worthy of my own compassion as is everyone else–my family, my friends, my students, my clients: those whom I spend my life loving. I know that the mantra “may all beings be free,” which I have spent many hours repeating, by definition also must include me.
And so, I soldier on, without the layers of shame and self-loathing that might otherwise have pervaded the already difficult days; I do not add suffering to pain. Two mornings later, Lucca and I get up in the dark and go out the door on empty stomachs. I find the parking garage and we make our way through the maze of linked hallways, elevators, buildings. We wait in the waiting room, go back to pre-surgery for gowns, and meet the anesthesiologist. I feel queasy as I carefully study this man who will keep my son hovering between awake and danger. But I’ve been practicing being more like Lucca in the last couple of days, and I copy his bravery. We walk to the O.R. with the friendly doctor, chatting about soccer and school, and Lucca climbs onto the table. I notice the table’s attachment: a platform for one arm branching out to the side: this is where they will strap him down once he’s under. I find myself surprised by how much the repair of one finger can affect me, and even more surprised when Lucca lies right down on his back for the doctor. I smile and fake-laugh at the jokes of how he’d soon smell monkey farts, and as he flutters away from consciousness, I hold back my tears and am escorted out by a reassuring nurse.
After an hour, the doc comes out to explain that all went well. We are done. Lucca is sucking on a purple popsicle when I get to him, and his right hand is trapped inside of a hard white cast the size of a small boxing glove. His demeanor is a bit different now, as though he’s been through something serious and somehow knows it. “I feel funny” he whispers to me, between slurps, keeping his eyes down and his brow furrowed. In the next hour, he battles some nausea, and screams and cries at the pain of getting the IV removed from his hand, but then we go home to our couch to snuggle, watch movies, eat Saltines, and keep his three-year old brother from roughhousing.
I continue to breathe in, and breathe out. Metta, lovingkindness is saving me. I am grateful to my former self for having filled the well with a daily practice. Some days asana, the postures, some days darhana, concentration, or pranayama, breath work. Sometimes it’s the study of yama and niyama, where I’m reminded of the practices of being with what is, of cultivating faith, of nonviolence—which includes nonviolence to self. Some days it’s all of the above, layered into one challenging, multifaceted practice. Often when we come to the mat to practice, we are unaware of the particulars of the why. And yet, one thing is certain: the why will come, and we will be fed by the well if we are putting in a sincere practice.
So dig the well now, my friends.
In the boring or frustrating moments of a concentration practice, in the dark early morning hours or in the last moments before bed, in the sweaty hot yoga class. Wherever you can, dig your well. Your relationship with others is informed by your relationship to your self, and the world needs you to have a deep, abiding self-compassion. Begin now and then begin again and again and again…