(written to my friend, Liz Roberts, March 30, 1959-Nov 10, 2012)
I don’t know if you remember the first time we met, but I do. It was the summer of 2007. I was a newly certified teacher. One Friday in August I took the bus to Woodstock to take class with our teachers. After a sweaty, inspiring class, I was standing by the side of the road waiting for the bus back to the city, and I found myself chatting with a few yoga teachers that I vaguely knew, and one that I didn’t; a tall woman, in a tall ten-gallon hat, sharing a bag of blue tortilla chips with everyone, talking animatedly. You were a striking figure.
A few months later, while I was finishing up my apprenticeship, you approached me about covering your early morning Spiritual Warrior classes, while you went to Italy for a few weeks on a “conjugal visit”. I hesitated. I was a new teacher, I didn’t know the class sequence, and it seemed like a high stakes situation I wasn’t ready to take on. I said I was afraid to do it, and you said: “maybe that’s why you should!” You knew how to spur me on to take the challenge. It was my first opportunity to teach regularly. I was so grateful and still am – I learned so much from that experience.
Still, we didn’t really know each other except to say hello in passing. In 2010, that changed when we were both studying for the Advanced Certification Exam.
I will always be grateful that you invited me to study with you and initiated our study group. Even though it was a stressful time, all I remember is a lot of laughing, as we rehearsed teaching each other, tripping each other up on purpose, doing our best to fluster each other, and to give each other feedback. Since that time of intense study, and the relief at passing the exam, an irrevocable bond of friendship was formed. I always feel that I passed that exam due to that study group you created.
After the exam, our friendship and mutual support continued. We decided to mentor each other and give each other feedback every week on dharma talks, teaching initiatives, and to plan workshops together. You attended the first retreat I taught in Amagansett as an enthusiastic student – what an honor! You helped me so much to develop as a teacher. My calendar still reminds that we have a standing lunch date every Wednesday at 12.
Liz, I keep thinking of that April weekend this year, when I came to see you in Chicago, when you were receiving holistic chemotherapy treatment at the Block Center. You sent me an email titled “The Rendezvous at O’Hare” with an itinerary for the weekend, maps of Chicago, and an airport plan. You proceeded to pick me up at the airport, show me around town, to take me out to dinner, and to see a play. Who was the patient here, I wondered. You seemed to have much more energy than I did. You were so excited about your writing projects and the progress you were making. Always more interested in life and optimism, never dwelling on difficulty or pain.
I’ll never forget the day when we walked by the lake on the Northwestern campus. It was such a bright, brilliant day and the view of the water and Chicago was breathtaking. We’d walked a lot, but you weren’t tired. When I told you about the new turn of events in my life, about my new love, you were so authentically delighted for me and so supportive. You always were and are for me the epitome of someone who is truly “happy for those who are happy”.
Your last few weeks and days in this body were deeply inspiring. You were teaching us all how to live and how to die; how to care for each other; and how to know what’s really important.
I want to live and die as gracefully as you with the Heart Sutra on my lips and a peaceful smile on my face.
Gate gate paragate parasangate bodhi swaha.
Gone, gone, real gone, beyond even the most gone.
Ultimate wisdom remains when everything has dropped away.
(from the Heart Sutra)
I miss you so much, my dear friend.
And I’m happy that you’re not in pain anymore.
I think that by now you’ve transmigrated into the body of a butterfly, or a body of light.
Thank you so much for being in my life, for your constant support, your enthusiasm and your friendship.