A couple of weeks ago I sweated for the first time since September. It was a gentle, beautiful, emotional and extraordinary experience. I went to a Nia class, which was one of the very first kinds of movement I ever did, five years ago. Danielle was the instructor, and it was one of her final classes before she leaves for a two-year journey to China. One of the other dancers was Alexis (pictured in my post here 2009). She brought her adorable six-month old baby with her, and danced with her in a front carrier. Her gentle, modified moves were perfect for me, just creakily getting back into movement. She didn’t bend as low or hop in the air or do any sudden moves. Just gentle.
Because it was Winter Solstice weekend, Danielle did a routine called Mandala that involved no spoken instruction. She moved, we followed, and she indicated transitions by clapping her hands. It felt so organic and wonderful. And the music? It made me tear up immediately. She played the music of Kitaro, which brought back really intense memories of a long ago time…
Back in one of my first home health physical therapy jobs when I was in my twenties, I had a patient named Oscar. He had a really advanced spinal cord tumor which had left him with paraplegia. I first worked with him in the hospital and then at his home. After some time it became clear that he was not getting better. His final desires were to walk again, however limited, and to go home to his homeland of Argentina. None of his doctors believed in either of these goals as either possible or advisable, but he was a determined guy.
When I visited him at home, he played Kitaro for me for the first time. “Listen,” he said, and he put these huge cushy headphones over my ears. This was at the very beginning of “New Age” music, and I’d never heard anything like it. He believed that it was magical. That it would help him walk. And one day I’ll never forget, he played this music through speakers in his living room, and step by step, he walked about ten steps across the floor. I was holding him by two shaking hands with a gait belt, and pulling his wheelchair by nudging it with my toe, and both of us were sweating bullets. But to the soundtrack of this incredible otherworldly music, he took his last walk.
Next, he asked me to take him to Macy’s in San Francisco so he could buy a traveling outfit – new pants and a jacket, and gifts for his family. It took all that I had to transfer his unwieldy body and his heavy wheelchair into my little Toyota hatchback, but we made it. I wheeled him all through that department store and helped him stand up (in physical therapy terms, using Maximum Assist) so he could see himself in a full length mirror. As we were leaving he said he wanted me to have a gift, and he bought me this beautiful ivory colored poet shirt with huge billowing sleeves. Because you are really a writer, he said. (yeah, he knew) Shortly after, he got onto a plane to Argentina and that was the last I ever heard from him. I assume he made it home for his final wish. But that was one of the most moving and meaningful experiences I ever had as a therapist.
I was young. Super young. And in retrospect I broke all kinds of rules I probably or maybe wouldn’t do now: I took a patient somewhere in my own car (liability no-no!). I accepted a gift from a patient, and lunch too. All these things are super frowned upon now (and probably then as well!). But that experience changed me.
Hearing Kitaro again in this return-to-movement class was terribly emotional for me. Danielle was leaving. Oscar had been leaving. I was returning to something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do again. All of this without words, but in stretching and turning and circling around the room. I had a hard time keeping the tears in. (so I didn’t)
Danielle has been an amazing teacher for me – graceful and strong and fun. I will miss her Michael Jackson Nia classes, her Halloween class, all of them. She sent out so much healing energy to me when I was hurt and I really felt her caring. I will miss her. I’m glad I got to experience her Nia one last time before she goes. Godspeed Danielle, and thank you. oxoxo