Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Saturday, 3 November 2012

No One Could Have Given More: In Loving Memory of John T. Smith

I just attended the funeral of a lovely man named John Smith.  Despite his extremely common name, John was an extraordinary person who I met while I was teaching and practicing at the local yoga shala. He died quite unexpectedly at age 59, of a brief and sudden illness.   

The church where the funeral was held was absolutely packed.  John clearly touched many many people.  
When they played the hymns, you could hardly hear anyone singing because everyone was crying. 

At the yoga studio, John practiced in the far left-hand corner, next to the window.  In warm, or at least reasonably uncatastrophic weather, he took his bike, which he also took on treks across a number of countries, along with his dear wife.  Whenever I subbed Mysore, I would arrive on my own bike at the very last minute.
“You don’t know what quarter to six means, do you?” he’d joke.  Then he would watch in feigned annoyance as I struggled to unlock the door.  John greeted everyone with a bright face and sincere interest.  

No one was spared from the teasing, but I don’t think anyone wanted to be. One day as I unrolled my mat in the Mysore room, John turned to me and pointed to the name that was printed on my yoga mat.

“Good thing your name’s there!” he said with a big smile. “Otherwise we wouldn’t know who you were!”
I started to say something back, but then Seth the instructor said, “Sssshh!” from across the room.  Over the years, it seemed that John caused many of us to be “Ssshhed” many times.  Probably none of us minded. 
Besides being a yogi and avid cyclist, John was a dedicated practitioner of karate and tai chi.  In the evenings, he would often do more than one karate class.  Some mornings, he would hobble in, favouring one side of his body or the other.
“You alright, John?” I’d ask.

“Oh yah,” he’d say.  “Just a little sore.”  Some years back, John had had hip replacements in both hips.  This never seemed to hold him back.  It was refreshing to see John practice.  He was delighted at what he was able to do, while maintaining true equanimity when faced with his limitations.  Due to his enthusiastic cycling and karate endeavours, his teacher Seth used to recommend that he do an intense psoas stretch before beginning his practice. 
Once, Seth had been away for a while and I noticed that John hadn’t done the psoas stretch for a couple of days. 

“So how about the psoas stretch?” I asked.
“Oh yah, better do that,” he said.  He grabbed a chair, bent one knee and slid his foot and shin against the wall.  For thirty seconds on each side he clutched the chair, grimacing in pure agony.  Then he stood up and continued his practice.  When others spoke of their struggles with various postures, John would shake his head, smile and say, “I don’t care.  I can do Baddha Konasana.”  No matter what he was talking about, there was always that twinkle in his eye, as though he was witnessing some sort of miracle. 
Baddha Konasana: John took great pride and delight in being able to do the pose, despite two hip replacements!
Every once in awhile, his replacement hips would pop out of place, usually in Trikonasana (triangle pose).

“Oh well,” he’d say.  “They’re not mine.  Can’t feel a thing.”
Listening to the tributes at the funeral, it seemed as though John was not someone who held back or did things moderately.  He gave everything had to every endeavour he took on:  family, friendships, yoga, work, karate, travel, cooking, chutney and jam...  For lack of a less cheesy sentence, it was very sad, but also very inspirational.
As a friend put it at the reception, “It makes you want to try harder.” 

Once John brought me a little jar of strawberry jam and it was absolutely delicious.   He was always trading chutneys and curry with other yoga practitioners.  I think that John was able to thoroughly demonstrate that where love and generosity are involved, there’s no need to hold back.  I hope to be able to truly remember this. 

Although I don’t know John’s family, I wanted to give them a card to express my gratitude for John’s presence in my life, and to offer my condolences.  It took me a long time to choose the card.  In the end I picked out  one with a picture of a silhouetted person on a sunsetted beach and her golden retriever.  Below the picture were the words, “No one could have possibly given...”

Inside the card was the word, “More.”

I thought that this message really captured John.  This morning before the funeral, as I was filling out the card, I turned it over and looked at the back.  There were the words, “Pet condolence greetings.”  The card company had created a line of Pet Sympathy Greeting Cards, to console people who had lost their dogs, and cats, and goldfish and guinea pigs.  I had purchased a pet sympathy card in memory of my friend John, a vibrant and remarkable human being.  Shoot. 

At first I thought that I wouldn’t use the card, and that I would just write something in the funeral home’s online guest book.  Then I realized that the words were actually right.  And John always took immense pleasure in catching and making fun of me in one of my typical socially awkward mishaps. 

So I thought I’d give John that satisfaction and I filled out the condolences card meant for the death of a pet.
Dear John, I do believe that nobody could have given more than you. I wish that I could see you one more time.  Though this is not to be, I will do my best to try harder and to give more.  I will think of you during my practice, and during my days.
Love, Erica.

Dog Friend in Gokarna, February 2016

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