My new car is a hybrid, and requires maintenance at a different shop than I’m used to, so when routine work came due last month, I realized that the distance between these new mechanics and my office would be perfect for a run. New territory is always welcome to keep jogging from becoming mundane, and a good sweat would give me a break halfway through the day.
After dropping the car and meandering a bit through increasingly residential and picturesque streets, I discovered a little footbridge connecting one neighborhood to another, and my mental map of the city was thrown off a bit. I wandered through new nooks and crannies, with only a general understanding that I was heading back in the right direction. As a “responsible grown-up” these days, I love it when I get to experience that kind of wonder, even if only briefly. It’s therapeutic, the voyage out of my daily calendar grid, chock full of responsibilities and routine, into unfamiliar territory, into something unknown.
After several minutes, the neighborhood began to look more familiar, until I realized exactly where I was, and a moment later I was spat out onto Forest Drive, oh familiar bastion of routine. I headed right, towards the yoga studio, and BOOM: I found myself running through the abandoned parking lot of the insurance agency where my sister Alex worked for several years. Now, I drive past this building every day. It was no surprise to me that it was on my path back to work. But I’ve never had any reason to set foot on it, and it felt like brand new territory to be standing there, halted in my footsteps, surrounded by the empty parking spaces and dwarfed by the building. But this time it didn’t feel wondrous at all.
Alex died eight years ago. Or eight hours, depending on which part of me you ask. She was 33 years old and I was pregnant with my first son; too much life ending and life beginning for me to comprehend. Thankfully, she passed in my other sister’s home, mostly comfortable and surrounded by those of us who love her the very most. We were lucky enough to help her as best we could to labor into the next realm.
So here I am, standing, catching my breath in a huge, vacant parking lot. The building has since been abandoned and has sat for rent for years. I didn’t live in town during the years she worked here, and the job wasn’t particularly meaningful to her. What stopped me cold here was not that we had any shared memories in this place, or that it defined her in any real way. What stopped me was that it occurred to me that she must’ve parked in several of these spots over the years. And as sad or as ridiculous as it may sound, in the moment, I felt the sense that I needed to walk over each one of them; that it could somehow connect me to her. I walked through several of the spots, wondering which she’d have chosen. I picked up the pace and jogged a bit through more rows. And more rows. And more rows. As I reached the back of the building I realized that parking spots surround the whole place, and exhausted, I ran some more. I began to cry as it occurred to me how pathetic it all was: all I have left in terms of new connections to her, the dirty abandoned parking lot of a job she disliked. I cried more.
With the tears came the slow peace that tends to come. Deeper truths seem to slowly buoy to the surface once weighty tears are no longer in the way. As often happens with my understandings of Alex, I couldn’t quite articulate what those truths are, but I could feel her laughter, and almost hear that unique giggle. What’s the tidy resolution to this story I’m here telling you now? The punchline that makes the grief disappear? There isn’t one. But as her laugh became more clear in my mind, it was as “she,” in some way, came to let me know that it’s okay now, and that there’s much more than this parking lot to connect me to her. I’m not able to feel the connections in the same ways I did when she was alive; I have to develop different senses to feel them, but I can tell you they’re no less real.
We carry both the wound and the salve; we don’t necessarily give up the former as we develop the latter. The truth is I do crave more: I wish she could be an auntie to my boys, a sister I can cook with, an actual physical shoulder to cry on from time to time. And, I can practice aparigraha: the non-grasping which allows for the flow of life rather than resists it. Aparigraha is the wisdom to know that to resist something as certain as the rising and setting of the sun–something like death–is to choose suffering.
And so, we dance. We dance between two extremes. The moments of grasping at scraps as they fall through our hands, feeling scarcity, embodying loss. The wound. And the moments of standing empty-handed in a parking lot, smiling at the bounty of having had 33 years of giggling with a soulmate sister like Al. The salve. With time, with practice, with yoga, we even get better at holding both extremes at once, and fluctuating less. Better at expanding the heart wide enough to hold two polarities without needing to choose one. Not bitter, not sweet, but all one.