Yoga and the fear of blindness, not to mention the ’60s.

Written By: sherridaley - Sep• 01•13

 Chapter One:  Yoga

I was lying on my back preparing for urdhva dhanurasana.  I had just positioned my hands alongside my head, or thereabouts, and was settling in for the push when I glanced up at the ceiling lights.

Shimmery rainbows circled each bulb like the ghostly rings around the moon before a snow.  I was marveling at them, postponing the backbend, when I realized that there was something slightly wrong with my depth perception, as though I had lost vision in one eye.

I closed my right eye, and the rainbows went away.

I closed my left eye, and the rainbows came back.

I decided I was imagining things and pushed up into my backbend. I was concentrating on straightening my arms, trying to squelch the feelings of envy and resentment toward the younger girls who were inching their feet closer to their hands, and those who had one slender leg in the air, and the ones who could rest on their forearms. I hated them.  That I could actually push myself up into a basic backbend was a hell of an accomplishment for me.  It took me years to get this far.  This line of thinking made me forget, momentarily, about the rainbow rings around the light bulbs.

Then I lowered down to the floor and looked up at the ceiling again.  The rainbows were still there, only they were foggy now.

I closed my eyes.  I had two more urdhva dhanurasanas to go.  Ihate backbends. I hate Camel, I hate Cobra; I hate Bow.  I really hate Bow. I hate Bow more than anything.

I took my own sweet time preparing for the second backbend, wiggling my hips into position, straightening my feet.  When I pushed up, the whole class was probably already up, been up for a while, but I do most of my yoga with my eyes closed. I am trying to find inner peace.  I cannot be distracted from my search for inner peace.

By the time we were ready for the third urdhva dhanurasana, I had forgotten about the rainbows.  I was thinking about breakfast pizza.

“Come gently to a seated position.”  Donna’s voice floated above our noses, coaxing us out of shavasana.  “And place your hands in prayer position at your heart.”  The room was sweetly quiet; I luxuriated in it, full of peace, and silent while the others lowed like cows. I listen to them Om.  I never Om, but I like it.  While they Om, I usually roll up my mat under my knees so I can make a quick get-away.  I know it is totally not in the spirit of yoga, but I want to be the first one out so I can get my iced coffee and breakfast pizza, and Morgan can take my money and square things away with me before everyone else gets to the coffee shop.  Then I can take my time and watch the others wait patiently, yoga-like, for their orders to be filled.

It was 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning and I had the entire day ahead of me with absolutely no obligations, no place to be, no time schedule, no errands to run, not even any books to return to the library.  But I couldn’t stay there.  Everyone else had places to go.  They came and got their lattes and their chai tea and cranberry muffins, and the women squealed when they saw other women they knew, the men drank their coffee while picking their sweaty T-shirts away from their wet chests,  and then within 15 minutes, they all grabbed their rolled-up mats and disappeared because they had someplace to go and something to do.

So I kind of pretended I did, too, and took my coffee in a to-go cup. 

The protestors on the bridge in Westport bothered me a lot.  I passed them every Saturday morning after yoga class.  They milled about on both sides of the road with their signs and sandwich boards calling for an end to the war in Iraq.  “Bring them home!” their signs demanded.  “Stop the killing!” their signs begged. “Honk if you want to end the war!”

I leaned on the horn and they held up their fingers in the peace sign and I started to cry.  What, was it the memory of Viet Nam?  Was it gratitude that Smith wasn’t there?  Was it the hopelessness of it all, knowing that their commitment to their protest, rain or shine, for nearly three years, wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans?

They were all over 50 at least, some over 80. In the sleet, the cold, the wind. No matter what.  One man wore a uniform splashed with medals.  His hair was grey and his posture was proud and military. He held a sign that said, “No more war!”  There were no young people there.  Never.

I should be there, too, I knew, instead of displaying myself in self-congratulatory postures hoping for inner peace. They were making a pitch for world peace.  I was selfish and I was ashamed of myself, but I never, during the years that the protestors showed up in sunshine and shitty weather on that bridge, did I ever show up and join them, hold up a sign, and tell the world that I hated the war in Iraq; and I did hate the war.  But apparently not enough to hold up a sign and make my position public.

I was very ashamed of myself.

At home, the gardens were aching for attention.  The hosta were bitten down to the quick by deer who  regularly strolled through the yard at dawn, and the forget-me-nots had made a mess of their space.  The forsythia had forced the lilacs to grow to gargantuan heights looking for sun, and poison ivy lurked under the quince, trying to hide from me.  I poured myself a glass of wine and walked the property with it, but I didn’t do any gardening.  I thought about  the protestors and my right eye.

The following Saturday, I dutifully reported to yoga class.   The year before I was determined to master the tripod headstand and I did.  I could lift up gracefully into that pose and remain there, peaceful and fulfilled like a real yogi.  This year, I was working on the handstand.

“Let’s all find a wall.”  Tracy stepped out of our way and clasped her hands to the front of her chest like an enthusiastic priest at communion.   People dragged their mats to the edges of the room.  I felt myself shrinking.  I knew other women could blossom into a handstand like ballerinas. Some of the men threw themselves up against the wall with purpose and courage, while others thrust their legs in the air hippo-like, sweating and failing two or three times before Tracy came and grabbed their ankles and shoved their feet against the wall.

I positioned myself dog-like and focused on where the floor met the wall.  I took long breaths and tried to center myself, whatever that means.   Then I shoved my legs up. I threw my legs up. Well, I threw my right leg up.  My left leg refused to follow.  Fuck, I thought, returning to my humbling down dog position. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

This is not a yoga-like attitude.  I closed my eyes.  Fuck, I thought.  No, I thought.  Breathe, I thought. Calm down. 

From somewhere, a peace grew. In the dark behind my eyes, I knew that both legs would go up and, magically, they did.  My heels met the wall and my arms, victorious, held strong.  I kept my eyes closed, luxuriating in success.

After a few seconds, I released onto my mat and folded into child’s pose.  Damn, I’m good.

Donna’s voice rang out like a bell.  “Let’s find our way onto our backs,” she said.

Urdhva dhanurasana.  I rolled over clumsily and spread my arms out in submission. Then I opened my eyes – and the rainbows glimmered around the ceiling lights again.  I closed my right eye: no rainbows.  I closed my left eye: rainbows.  This was not good.  I closed both eyes and directed my thoughts into my peaceful heart, where a small still voice said, “You are going blind.”

No, I’m not, I told my heart, and braced up into Bridge Pose.  I settled my hands by my head and breathed up into my first backbend.  I felt strong.  I counted to five.  OK, other girls were still up when I let myself down, but hey. 

Then I opened my eyes.  Now the room was full of fog.

I closed my right eye. No fog.  I closed my left eye.  Fog.  Fine. I was only going blind in my right eye.  I could hardly breathe.  “You are going blind,” said the small still voice, and I sat up straight to argue with myself.

Then everything went black. 

I was paralyzed.  I stared off into the dark until my sight returned, politely, as though it was just a teeny mistake, and, here, here’s your sight back. Sorry.

I rolled up my mat and picked my way through the crowded room to the door. 

The woman at the desk asked, “Are you all right?”

I stared at her.  “I don’t know, “ I told her.  “I lost my vision for a second or two.  I see rainbows.  Things get cloudy.”

She said nothing.   I said nothing, and then I turned around and left. No breakfast pizza. I wasn’t in the mood.

On the way home, my sight cleared.  The protesters were still on the bridge despite the weather, which was dull and wet.  This was year four of their protest.  Every Saturday from 10 to 11.  Rain or shine.  Snow, sleet.  You know.  Like the mailmen.

That day, the rain was light but steady.  No one had an umbrella, and I worried about their health.  Some of them were in their 80s.  I knew one of the women.  She was 93.  Why were there no young people there?  Whatever happened to the passion of the ‘60s? 

I shook my head and leaned on my horn.  They all raised their hands in the peace sign, an almost unconscious  reflex. 

Here was the passion of the ‘60s.  These were the kids of the 60’s, and the parents of the kids of the ‘60s, and the veterans who did not want to see any more young men and women die.  Here was the passion.

As usual, I was ashamed I was not there on the bridge with them.  Seeing those determined, committed, grey-haired men and women, I realized that back in the ‘60s, I had been just a convenient protester.  My  high school fiancé was caught in the draft and sent to Viet Nam in 1965. After a few months, out of nowhere, he sent me a first lieutenant’s uniform with my name on the breast pocket.  I don’t have any idea how he got that, but I wore it with a madras kerchief and Indian moccasins for a whole semester, telling those who asked (but hardly anyone did) that we had no business in Viet Nam; the boys should come home.  I traipsed across campus in my army uniform, attended fraternity parties and drank a lot of beer, gave flowers to passersby on Earth Day (the first one ever), read William Blake and Schopenhauer and Doris Lessing and thought myself quite the intellectual and courageous spirit, when I was anything but.  I was a young girl seeing the world from the safety of a college campus  (students were ineligible for the draft) and my gender of course – women were not drafted back then .  

When I got home, I called Dr. Steckle the optometrist, but I could not get an appointment for three months.   I would be completely blind by then.

My son Smith was on the deck sunning himself.  I came out and waved at him, respectful of his cell phone conversation.  I looked at him with my right eye only and he looked fuzzy around the edges.  I switched eyes. He was perfect.  I closed my left eye and he morphed into a blur.

Smith studied me warily.  He took the cell phone away from his ear.  “What,” he said to me.

“I’m going blind.”  I closed my right eye and he was crystal clear.  I considered this.

“I’ll call you back,” he said into the phone and rested it on his chest.  “You’re going blind?”

Both eyes open, I said,” I think I am.”  I sat down at the picnic table and took a much-needed breath of air.  A yoga breath.  “If I am upside down for a minute, when I get up, I see rainbows.  Today I lost my sight altogether for a few seconds. “  I folded my hands together and set them on my lap.  “Only in my right eye.”

Smith said, “Uh-huh.”

“I can’t get an appointment with Dr. Steckle for three months.”

My son has been unnaturally concerned about his health since he was a little boy.  I think I caused this by dismissing any and all complaints he has ever had.  “Oh, that’s nothing,” I would say when he cracked his head on the corner of the coffee table.  “It’s not even bleeding.”  I’d sweep him up from a tumble and kiss his face.  “All better!”  I’d announce.  “A rash? Just a little red patch.  It means nothing.”

Apparently, he never believed me. He has been making his own doctor and dentist appointments since he was 15.  As an adult, he has never missed a check-up.  I wonder sometimes if I was a bad mother, but if I was, the end result was a responsible man who took care of himself.  I guess.

That day, he looked at me sympathetically.  “I have an appointment with Dr. Steckle day after tomorrow.  You could take that. I can make another.”

His cell phone rumbled against his chest.  He glanced at it.  “Go ahead,” he said. “Call the doctor.  Make sure you’re all right.”

“Why do you have an appointment?  Is something wrong with your eyes?”  What had he been keeping from me?

He shook his head.  He looked at his cell phone again.  “I just wonder if all the time I spend at the computer screen might mean I should have glasses. You know, preventative.  This can wait.  Yours can’t.”

What did I do to deserve such a child?

I went in and got a glass of wine.

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One Comment

  1. Julie says:

    So, how are your eyes?

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