A guy I’ve been taking yoga with for several years died last week. A little memorial sheet was taped up on the door of the studio where the class we took is always held. It had a greenish photocopied picture of him and a little obit underneath it. His name was Ron, and like me, he was always a little early so he could get the spot he wanted. Once in a while we exchanged a few sentences while we waited, mats slung over our shoulders, while they pretended to clean the floor between classes. I never knew his name until the little obit on the door.
I was totally shocked. Not that he seemed in the pink of health or young or anything. Surely he was the most out of shape guy at the studio, and certainly not an advertisement for the wonders yoga can do to keep a person trim, fit and full of beans. I was next to him once in class. He huffed, he puffed, and he sweated profusely. He never made it through an entire class, he left anywhere from a half hour to an hour into it. There’s another man like that, who I used to practice with–a pretty well known agent–who also left early. He, on the other hand was totally fit, even ripped. Clearly the agent had places to go and promises to keep. One always got the feeling with Ron that he had nowhere to go in a hurry.
You’re supposed to take your own Savasana if you leave the class early. But I never noticed whether Ron or the ripped agent did that or merely rolled up and sneaked quietly out without final relaxation. All the other complicated poses in yoga are meant to prepare you for Savasana, which translated from the Sanskrit, means Corpse Pose. Savasana is also preparation for your own final resting pose when you leave this life.
I’m guessing Ron was closer to 60 than forty, though it’s hard to tell. He was bald, he was overweight, he wore this stupid little cloth tied around his head, and he always took his shirt off, and now that I’m thinking about it, he man-scaped. He had a fringe of grey hair but nary a hair on his body. Why am I only remembering that now? Probably because I didn’t want to know all that much about Ron. And too, as I think about it, I realize I cultivate yoga friendships with people who are in better shape than Ron. Which means I’ve learned absolutely nothing all these years at yoga. Still, it’s hard being a woman, and it’s hard getting older. Especially hard in LA, the world’s undisputed leader in shallow, superficial values.
According to the obit, Ron was an artist. It didn’t say, what kind of artist, though I’m imagining he painted. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have liked his paintings. Though you never know. The obit also stated that his two children pre-deceased him. And those donations should be sent to the Clare Foundation. That I’m also guessing is what really killed him. It could also explain why Ron always looked sort of sad and out of it. Clare is a get sober house. We used to live a few doors down from it when we first moved to LA. Drunks from there used to lie on the grass in front of our apartment and always made me even more homesick for New York than I already was.
I’m not sorry I didn’t get to know Ron any better, but now that he’s gone I miss him. I asked our teacher and she too misses him. As do the people at the front desk. We feel, because it’s impossible not to, how ineffable it is to be here one minute and gone the next.
When I went to the studio yesterday to take class, the obit was already down from the door. When Mr. Iyengar died, they kept the picture up and a shrine going for at least a month. But I’m guessing a dead student is a real bummer and not the best advertisement for a studio that is always clamoring for more students and building new locations right and left.
Ron dying like that also made me remember a mystery I was writing not that long ago, that I never finished. When I was cleaning off my desktop recently, I relegated it to the graveyard known as “In Progress”. It was called Savasana. And it began with a dead body showing up at the end of the yoga class during final relaxation. I had figured out who the detective was, her voice was coming along really well, as was her relationship to her mother, who I knew was my favorite character the second I started writing her. I remember how she felt about her boyfriend; she was crazy in lust with him. It was set in East Hampton, a place I regard as my spiritual home. I don’t know what made me abandon that mystery after a hundred and fifty pages.
I guess like Ron, I could only show up for half my mystery, I didn’t have the stamina to see that particular book to its conclusion.
When people speak of Ron they remember he was soft spoken, that he came early and left early, and that he always showed up for his practice.
It’s all any of us can do, show up. And breathe. The rest as they say, is not our business.