"If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated." -Christopher Hitchens
Sometimes someone says something that stops you, stuns you, reawakens and fills you with a vision of life, some past event or person in a ways that they may never have calculated.
I recently taught a workshop in Philadelphia, and one of the students in the class, Kathyrn, happened to be someone who had lived in the same small town in New Mexico where I had grown up. She mentioned that I had taught her swimming (I had been a teenager at the time, and she, a young girl), as had my parents.
She told me that she had such fond memories of my parents and especially of my father who, she said, would always encourage her to swim that extra lap, to go a little farther even when she thought she could not, and not give up on herself. And she said that it was my father who taught her about practice. It was the vision of his example, his embodiment of practice. She watched him practice his diving, dive after dive, quietly focusing his mind and body before each attempt. And that she carried this vision of practice with her to this day, so many years later.
My first thought was, "I must share this with my mother, it will mean more to her than either of us can possibly imagine."
And I later realized--as if for the first time, which is astounding--that it was my father who taught me about practice. He taught me about finding that which you love and sharing it. Swimming and skiing were not his professions, but they were his passions, as was teaching, and sharing his love with others. He would spend hours (when not at work or doing chores) swimming and diving at the local pool. Or skiing at the local ski area. Moving in the water, or on the snow, was a dance for him, a celebratory dance of life in nature. At those times he moved and breathed with such grace and contentment. He was in a state of flow, in a zone of integration, in harmony with himself and the environment. And he shared this with his students. It had an impact. Maybe more than he could ever have envisioned.
Sharing Kathryn's memories of my father with my mother was a type of tapas for me. Tapas is a Sanskrit term which is sometimes defined as heat, or discipline, something like a willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation. I knew that I would feel extremely vulnerable when sharing these memories with my mom. Sometimes it feels easier to avoid these conversations, or to wait for what we think will be the right time to share. But how can we be sure that there will be time? Why postpone sharing something that might very well impact someone else in more ways than you can possibly imagine?
Christopher Hitchens wrote that the last year of his life (he had terminal cancer) was "his year of living dyingly." Perhaps it is possible to live dyingly, and so live very fully, in some small way right now. By making that call. Writing that note. Facing the heat of tapas not for your own transformation, though that most certainly will occur, but for the sake of another. And another and another. The impacts of sharing a memory, of kindness expressed, "will almost certainly be more than you have calculated."
"Let me not cry for my own disapointments, but because life is large and touching." -Saint Tyaagaraja