Lessons from Heather

I’ve been afraid of dying as far back as I can remember. Big time afraid. When I was little I would stay awake at night and get anxious about it. My palms would sweat and my heart would race as I’d try to understand the idea of not being. Not hugging my mom, not eating ice cream, not running up and down the soccer field. Not feeling, not laughing, not talking, not breathing. Not existing. I’d go over and over the thought of it in my mind and then shudder, feel cold in my body, and try to fall right to sleep so I didn’t have to consider the implications anymore.

A year ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As soon as I heard the news, I had that feeling again. My palms started to sweat and my heart raced. I burst into hysterical tears thinking about Heather not being. When I woke up the next morning I thought about dying, for the first time, in a new way. I thought about how Heather is the least deserving of terminal cancer of any single person I know on the planet. Then I felt anger. I thought about how Heather might not be at my wedding, help me raise my kids, or hula hoop at the next yoga festival. Then I felt sad. I thought about the beautiful and inspiring way in which Heather lives her life. Then I felt hopeful. I thought, dying is a damn good reason to: be nice to everyone, love unconditionally, forgive easily and openly and live fully in every single moment I have. Then I felt empowered.

She wrote to me soon after her diagnosis and said, “I’ve been handed my mortality. We all have one, I just know where mine is coming from. It’s time to be present.”

Holy Shit. This woman is recovering from major surgery in the face of a death sentence and she’s still my own personal buddha. Her spirit is magical.

Heather is one of my greatest teachers. I want to honor her tremendous life by sharing some of her lessons. Her lessons have shaped and enhanced the woman I am always trying to become. It is through her lessons that I know she will be inside of me. Forever.

love everyone like they’re your own family

I loved Heather immediately. We had an accidental run-in on adjacent yoga mats, and I was instantly taken by her. She had captivating energy. She surrounded me with love. She made deep and sincere eye contact. She hugged me like we did it every day.

Just after we met, I saw her in the Zuda Yoga lobby before class. She was glowing with her usual radiance, tempered by a gentle aura of deep relaxation. She told me she’d slithered her way to class after a massage had transformed her body into liquid. “Have you ever gotten a massage?” I hadn’t. “OH giiiirrrlll. It’s a must. I’m going to get you one.” She disappeared with her cell phone for five minutes and returned with a business card. “Call Tyler anytime, everything’s taken care of.”

Is this lady for real?

Completely real.

Her early gift to me was the first of many extraordinary moments and circumstances where Heather taught me how beautiful it is to love people. All people. Unconditionally. The way you love your own. She loves every, single, person, every, single, day, the way most of us do only on Thanksgiving or at our close relatives’ weddings. Heather taught me that it’s silly to hoard your love. That life is more abundant, more joyful and more fulfilling, the more love you give out. Heather opens her home, her heart, her wallet, her patience, her attention, to the whole world. She makes us feel safe, like we belong, like we are loved. No matter who we are or how we show up.

It is remarkable.

I have tried to emulate this in my own life and have observed to important things. 1) damn it’s hard sometimes to love everybody. 2) Hell yeah, it’s totally worth it.

On Partnership

My parents’ marriage was a disaster.  Even as a kid, years before they got divorced, it was easy for me to see how terribly wrong they were for each other. By the time I met Heather, I was pretty convinced marriage was one of the easiest ways to ruin your life.

Dave and Heather defy everything I thought I knew about partnership. The first night I spent in their home felt transformative. Mutual respect. Equity. Love. Communication. Support. All of these qualities permeated their every interaction. I couldn’t believe I was watching grown-up, married people behave this way towards each other. It blew my mind. The more time I spent with the Redfords, the more I admired the way they worked as a team: parenting, planning, cooking, laughing, decision-making.

In the summer of 2010, Heather and I sat on the porch of a Squaw Valley condo and talked about love and partnership. I told her how much I admired her relationship with Dave. I told her how much I had learned from them, just being a part of their lives. She told me that marriage is work. She told me that loving someone for your whole life and having to live that life, is nearly impossible. She told me that in a marriage, there are days, even entire time periods where you don’t even like your spouse. She also told me, that she loves Dave so deep in her soul and is so committed to him, somehow, it all works out. That conversation, and all of the moments I spent with the two of them, were important lessons about sacrifice, and forgiveness, and love, and commitment. Heather taught me that finding a partner, loving them and making it work is one of the most beautiful ways to spend a life.

Living a full life.

The first time I went to Heather’s house I was invited for “dinner.” “Come over in the early evening, bring wine if you want, otherwise just bring your awesome self.”

So, I figured: have a little food, a little conversation, I’ll probably be back home and in bed by 11.

That night, Steven made crab cakes. He’s her youngest. He was sixteen at the time. He looks exactly like Heather and I felt the same way I feel about her the moment he hugged me (as soon as I walked in). There were three different types of desserts. I must have had ten glasses of wine.

Early in the night we huddled in the family room and shared about our lives. I talked about law school and teaching yoga. Patrick (her oldest) talked about college applications and how he’d never even consider going to UCLA. We talked about Buddhism and high school and the perils of being an accountant. We talked and laughed and loved each other. I felt home.

Later we feasted on delicious food. We drank more wine. Had more conversation.

When dinner and dessert were over we hugged each other and laughed some more. In all of the euphoria we found ourselves dancing in the entry way to the house, singing our hearts out.

I probably crawled into bed that night at 3a.m.

The abundance of that night was characteristic of every experience we’ve ever had together. Heather taught me what it means to live a full life. She does everything with full attention, full energy, full heart, full love. She shines as her fullest self in every moment. She shines and shines and shines.

She took days off of work to ski with her kids in Tahoe. During his senior year of high school she took her son to see his favorite band at Red Rocks because “why the hell wouldn’t I?!!!” She meditates, practices yoga and drinks good wine. She is a divine goddess of laughter and spirit.

She is a constant reminder to me that this moment is all I have, so I better rock it the fuck out.

Heather gave me many gifts: emotional, spiritual and material. But her greatest gifts of all are her lessons on how to be in my life. I am a better woman, friend, partner and human because of her. She will live forever in my heart.

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