All posts by Rebecca Michelle

Love people. Cook them tasty food.

Today was the kind of day that I describe as quiet but very, very loud. Quiet because I didn’t venture more than a few kilometers from home and loud because my thoughts have been racing. There aren’t many days like these.

It’s the end of the calendar year, which means that nearly every conversation I’ve had over the last few days has led inevitably to a discussion of who’s staying or going at work. Who has resigned their contracts, who has decided to move on at the end of the school year, who’s attending which job fair, who has signed up with which recruitment agency. Who’s moving on, adventuring elsewhere, pursuing different dreams.

Even though they’re commonplace and repetitive, these conversations leave me very sad because saying goodbye is hard, and it doesn’t help to think that it’s six months away.

I went for a run today in the rain – on purpose. I figured that if I was going to cry, I might as well do it when the sky was crying, too. But I ended up laughing because I was squinting to see, jumping to avoid puddles, and absolutely soaked about two minutes in. And while laughing, I realized that I had a choice.

I could be sad because people were leaving, or I could be happy for the times we’ve spent together, the ways we’ve known each other, the laughter and ideas and conversations that we’ve shared.

And I realized it was okay to feel sad, but that the sadness would never be stronger than the joy I have felt around the friends that I’ll be sending down new roads when the time comes. Basking in that joy is what allows me to feel sadness and that’s okay, too.

My mum has a dishtowel that aptly sums up my philosophy towards the people in my life. “Love people,” it says. “Cook them tasty food.”

I’m bringing gingersnaps to work tomorrow.

Dance Class

I grew up dancing. I started in dance classes when I was three, competed for a few years in elementary school (think: sequins, makeup, anxious mothers fluttering around), taught dance in high school, joined a dance troupe the first or second week of college, took a ballroom dance class for credit. In addition to ballroom, I’ve danced ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, and modern.

And then I stopped.

I guess other things took priority. At first I was a new teacher and grad student, and then I started spending a lot more time running or working out at the gym. I started doing yoga instead of dance because I could follow videos on YouTube and it seemed like less of a commitment when I was trying to write a thesis.

And then dance just melted away. It became this thing I had loved and had done – past tense. As years passed, apprehension and ego took over each time I thought about trying again. What if I’d forgotten everything? What if my feet slipped out from under me? What if my legs got twisted around and I turned the wrong way? What if, oh gosh, what if I was bad?

This was a concern because I used to be good, good at tap in particular. What if that was no longer the case?

But I knew that I missed it. I’d taken my dance bag with me to multiple countries and let it sit in the back of the closet, a not-so-gentle reminder of a love I’d let lapse.

Back in September, I took a step towards a new thing by starting meditation through a program at school and I learned, actually learned, what I tell my students all the time: It’s okay to be inexperienced. It’s okay to ask for clarification or advice or express uncertainty. Meditation reminded me that we all start somewhere and that it’s okay to start over.

So just last night, I took my first tap class since college. I will admit that I was nervous. I slept fitfully the night before and woke up early with a hint of anxiety just under my sternum, which is usually where I find anxiety when I (mindfully – thank you, meditation) probe for and analyze it.

But when I walked out of class, I felt like I was flying. I’d forgotten a lot but there were more steps that started to come back to me. I’d forgotten to keep my knees bent and toes pointed outwards. I’d forgotten when to shift my weight to the opposite foot and I did get twisted around a few times. But I remembered the three distinct sounds of a riff and how to spot a turn (on my right side, at least). I remembered flaps, shuffles, cramp rolls, and the ball changes that go along with them (at slower speeds, anyway).

I’d forgotten that dance is why I never used to paint my toenails and that it consistently leaves me with a high beyond anything running usually accomplishes. I’d forgotten that I used leave class laughing, testing out steps on the sidewalk, silently chanting the rhythms we’d been practicing. I’d forgotten why dance had been a priority for so long and I’m still not sure how I lost it.

I could not be happier to find it again.

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Embracing Time

Last weekend, I listened to a Sam Harris podcast with Frank Ostaseski on death and dying. It led me to reflect on various experiences as well as grow curious about those of others. Feeling the need for human connection, I reached out to a friend to talk through this with me. As sometimes happens, people are not as responsive as we wish they’d be and I ended up largely considering these ideas alone:

What happens when you die?

Who and what have you lost?

What are you afraid of?

What do you wish you knew?

What are you glad you don’t know?

Asking myself these questions was a way of becoming recognizing the thoughts that underlie many of my actions and ideas. I thought a lot about Jewish traditions around death and mourning where the emphasis is first on never leaving the body and then on preventing the bereaved from retreating into solitude. In fact, the most important prayer recited for 11 months following the death of a parent, spouse, or child is only permitted to be said in the company of at least ten people. 

As a kid, I reread the chapter on death and dying from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul more times than I can count. Since then, I’ve been to funerals, cemeteries, calling hours, and shiva houses. I’ve experienced the deaths of relatives, family friends, peers, and former students. I don’t think death scares me, but I likely think about dying more than I realize. I think that’s true of all of us.

Once, a friend was getting ready to leave my apartment and I couldn’t help myself and asked, “What are you afraid of?”. We talked for four more hours.

I remember saying that I’m afraid of running out of time to tell people what I want them to know, to tell them how special they are and how much I love them. My friend’s advice to simply do just that has stayed with me since. It has guided the openness with which I have tried to form new relationships and reconnect with people from way back when.

But over time and for a variety of reasons, we lose people. We lose opportunities. We lose the chance to participate in something that matters to us or to engage with people who matter to us. We are sad about these losses. We cry for them. We fear them. We do not know how we will move on without them. We do not know what there is without them.

These losses are painful to us because we feel robbed by time.

What would we have done if we’d had the time?

I’m beginning to understand that maybe it’s not about time at all. Maybe it’s about regretting doing X or not doing Y. Maybe it’s about living fully and presently to avoid the regrets that come from “running out of time”. We can instead can allow ourselves to take chances and explore possibilities, and we can forgive ourselves and others for our doings or lack thereof. This requires living mindfully with an awareness that we can choose to leave nothing unsaid or undone. We can choose to embrace time and use it to spur us along, saying and doing what we wish to say and do.

Thinking about this just yesterday, I made a choice that was hard for me. I asked someone I care about for something I wanted. I got an answer that I didn’t like. And I walked away (more honestly, retreated to the gym) without regret because I hadn’t waited for anything. I hadn’t pretended to be okay when I wasn’t. I’m not left wondering. It’s a strange, new, fragile feeling that I’m actively working to maintain as a positive force rather than slipping into doubt and self-disparagement.

The podcast left me wondering why we so infrequently talk about these ideas – that we are sad when we lose people because of the regrets we have and the forgiveness we haven’t granted, either to ourselves or to others. As Ostaseski emphasized, we need to understand death by seeing it as part of life. As part of living. My meditation teacher reminds us each class that part of the Zen practice of meditation is a preparation for death. After listening to the podcast, I put The Tibetan Book of the Dead on hold at the library; I should have it in about six weeks.

And in the meantime, I think I’ll keep that strange, new feeling of an end without regret.