Message from Rosemary

Friday, July 10, 2015

I was trying to decide if I should send the check for the trip to Cuba. Traveling has never been my thing. I think of it as a luxury reserved for those with means, and I grew up in a family that lacked such means. A simple day-trip to the beach could and often did end in financial and emotional disaster. To this day, I get heart palpitations when I think about spontaneously going to the springs or the coast, despite the distance that now separates me from my childhood and the relative accessibility of those watery destinations. I’ve only been overseas once ten years ago, and I still feel terrified when I click the “Purchase Now” button on airline tickets to visit dear friends in domestic cities I love. What if the apocalypse strikes just after I purchase the flight?

But I’m working on this. Breathing helps, and relaxing does, too. And perhaps even, a kind of fledgling trust, a willingness to just experience what comes up. If I’m willing to make myself uncomfortable, perhaps my fears and doubts and discomforts will gradually lose their power to inhibit a more expansive relationship with life.

To this end, this summer I have a list on my refrigerator that contains the following items: Do yoga, dance, paint, write, cook, travel.  These are, of course, all things that are good for me. To varying degrees, these activities make me uncomfortable and are easy to avoid.  But I’ve been implementing the list, and in the next two months, provided calamity doesn’t strike, I’m going to the Tennessee mountains, to San Francisco, and to…Cuba.

The Cuban Tropics, to be exact.

But this isn’t really about Cuba.  It’s about Rosemary.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a yoga class at the gym. The practice room was large and smelled of dirty feet and sweat. The sandy floor quickly filled with members, each angling to get their ideal spot in the room, not too close to other people but not so far from the neighboring mats that latecomers could scoot in and take away those extra inches of space.

I’d found a spot by the window, coveted not only for its natural light source in the fading dusk but for its sense of privacy–people surrounded me on only three sides instead of four. Class started, and I settled in for the opening postures, noting the window on my left and the slightly risky open space to my right. It’s too small for another mat, I thought reassuringly, as the door opened several times to admit latecomers who inserted themselves awkwardly in several remaining spaces. Not my space, I thought, and relaxed a little more.

And then I heard it. On my back with my eyes closed: little feet gently walking. Sound coming closer. Closer. Yoga mat unfurling. No! But yes, a presence. Someone on my right. The open space was gone. Damn.

The teacher called us out of our meditation, and we rose to our feet. I looked at my intruder, and she looked up at me. A slight, hunched woman, older than anyone I’d personally seen practicing yoga,  smiled at me with bright, mischievous eyes and whispered “Sorry” with a little shrug of her frail shoulders. I smiled back. I couldn’t help myself. I adored her immediately.

Over the next hour and a half, she moved through difficult postures with the studied grace of a professional dancer, her hands and feet moving like bird wings in slow, intentional flight. I was deeply moved. A number of times the instructor called our attention to the front of the class, where she was demonstrating a pose. The woman on my right shot me apologetic looks for blocking my view.  In fact, I could see around her easily, but I didn’t want to.  She was my teacher.

Class ended and we rolled up our mats. “I really enjoyed practicing with you,” I said, smiling again. She said, “Oh, me too with you, honey,” and touched my arm with her long fingers. “Your practice is beautiful,” I said, feeling clumsy but wanting to tell her how inspired I felt being next to her, seeing her body’s strong elegance in the presence of significant age. “Are you a dancer?” I asked. “A long time ago,” she said, smiling and thanking me graciously.  She was, of course, still dancing.

So moved by this experience, that night I posted about it on Facebook. A friend and fellow yoga practitioner wrote me privately and said, “I think that’s Rosemary you’re talking about.” Apparently, my friend had also connected with this sparkly woman.

The next night, I was running late to yoga. This class, much harder than the previous class, was a 30 minute drive through traffic, and I got unexpectedly delayed. As I anxiously dashed in just before the opening pose, I saw that my usual spot in the back, next to another window, was somehow still open. I ran to it and unrolled my mat, relieved. Then I looked up. Just in front to my left was the old woman. And, to her right, an open space. Not much, but enough. I looked at my window, at the luxurious space around me–my comfort zone. I looked in front of me, at the small but adequate space next to my new friend. Shyly, I nudged my mat into the space beside her. She smiled and moved her mat to make a little more room for me. “Hi,” she said, “what a treat to practice with you again.” At the end of class, I asked her name. “Rosemary, my dear,” she said, “It’s so nice to meet you.”

A few days after these encounters with the woman called Rosemary, I was going back and forth in my head about the Cuba trip. “It’s expensive. Your GI just put you on a restrictive diet. You’re already taking trips. What if your car dies and you really need that money? What if it’s dangerous there? Plus, the planes will be cramped and you’ll have to share a room with a woman you don’t know.”  The other voice simply said, “Cuba.”

I went into my studio and started to paint. By then, I’d written the check and addressed the envelope for the Cuba trip, but I couldn’t bring myself to put in my mailbox. I finished the painting and almost immediately heard the title arise, “Message from Rosemary.”  At first, I didn’t know what the title meant, I just knew that was the painting’s name.

And then, I got it.

I put the check in my mailbox and raised the red flag.

13 comments :

  • Anna

    Your new website is beautiful, Sara! 🙂 And SO GLAD you’re going to CUBA!!! YAY!

    • admin_sara

      Thank you, Anna! The website may still undergo some stylistic changes, but I’m so glad it has the increased functionality. 😉 I can’t thank you enough!

  • William

    Sara, You will be among friends.

  • Dean

    Come to Cambodia…

  • christy

    Love it!

  • Mercy

    You are so inspirational! Cubans are great and will welcome you with lots of expresso and a warm hug… I may be a little bias, but that is my hope!

  • Silvia

    Love reading your blog posts, and viewing your amazing paintings – all so full of life itself! This one struck a particularly personal cord because I am Cuban and had the opportunity to return to my birthplace in 2000 – for the first and only time back with my parents, since I had left at the age of 5. It remains in my heart as a very emotional trip that I cherish (especially because both my parents have passed away since, a few short years our return visit back). CUBA is a BEAUTIFUL island with amazingly soulful and spirited people. They live very simply with very little (at least most of the population does) but life is about family and sharing the little they have. Music, art, culture, food, and love is everywhere, but so is hardship for many trying to make it from day to day. I think you will cherish the experience too, and will not be able to put down your paintbrush or your pen as a result. Can’t wait to hear or see what comes of your visit to Cuba!

    • Sara

      Silvia, thanks for your super-thoughtful response to this post! I LOVE hearing about your connection to Cuba and your encouragement to go and be inspired. Simplicity–living with less in a beautiful way–is something I really value, and I can’t think of a better way to witness and experience this beautiful simplicity than a visit to Cuba! I’ll definitely share about the trip and imagine some paintings will come out of the adventure 🙂

  • Silvia

    Sorry, my proofreading fetish could not let me ignore an obvious faux pas in my previous comment which should read — “after our return visit back).” Thanks, now I feel better 🙂

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