Conversations on the 1 Train: how one woman forever changed my life
Have I told you this story before? It's one of those moments that when it happened, it felt like this must be a movie. Or perhaps, one day if they make a movie loosely based on my life this would be the turning point of the story.
It was springtime in the city two years ago. What a magical time to be in New York! The whole of the city starts to vibrate awake in the spring. The heavy layers of two coats and three pants start to peel off and with it, some of the coldness of the people melts away too. I was in the subway at Herald Square with a friend who, at the time, toed the line between more-than-friends and best friends. We were about to part ways for the day when a woman who was clearly not from here rushed over to us and asked for our help. I suspect the way we were when we were together was so much softer than the rest of the frenetic energy of people trying to get places that we felt like a safe choice. Two people who were trying to make the world a little kinder for each other would naturally make it so for another person in need.
The woman had an accent that I couldn't quite place. She was trying to find her way to Columbia University as she was due to give a presentation later that day. Since I was going that way, I offered to take her. I said goodbye to my more-than-friend and off we went uptown. On the train ride, I discovered that she was from Nepal and a human rights activist. We talked about her work. We talked about her people. We talked about the panel she was on that weekend. I was soaking in information. Two years ago, though I was interested in communities and individuals that suffered trauma, I felt too small to do anything about it. Time has proven the opposite. She sparked something in me that day, a curiosity that said maybe this thing you've been hiding in your heart is possible.
She asked me about my job. When I told her that I was a yoga teacher, she was so excited. Coming from a family of civil engineers, my career choices were less than ideal. Maybe they would never admit this in a public way, but in the silence of their own hearts, I think my parents were disappointed when I decided to spend four years at an acting conservatory instead of going to school for literally anything else. Having someone see the value in the thing that I feel is my life's work was refreshing. She asked me what kind of yoga I taught. I said something to the effect of vinyasa yoga, edging towards power. She paused with a little furrow in her brow. I, for a second, thought that maybe they didn't call or practice that type of yoga in her community. She then said, "but what kind of yoga do you teach?"
It was a question that changed my world. She was less concerned with the physical practice and more concerned with the energetic, philosophic, and healing ideas behind the movement. She wanted to know the why. No one had ever asked me why. Perhaps they had, but they hadn't demanded an answer the way she did. I took a moment to scan my heart. It's funny how the anonymity of being with a stranger can suddenly make people feel seen in ways they never had. Especially in contrast to the intimate way in which my friend and I were relating just moments ago, I somehow felt as though this woman, this activist from Nepal, was seeing me more clearly than anyone else had dared. So I said, for the first time out loud, "my yoga is about the heart. It is about healing. It is about compassion and forgiveness and belonging."
We looked at each other. Maybe she knew, maybe she could see, that this was a moment of revelation for me. I had the feeling that she was deeply connected to her spirituality and her intuition. She pulled at the threads that would lead to my unraveling. I thought I had done the work to shed the layers of artifice that I had built to protect myself, but apparently not. There was more. More healing, more transparency, more of me.
"Come teach in Nepal," she said. She barely knew me but she insisted that her community needed healers. Her community needed people, needed women, to lead and guide and support. My first thought was who am I to offer anything up to these people? A part of me still believes that. The collective trauma of the Nepalese community is so vast it seems almost overwhelming to think that one person could affect any sort of change or healing. I'm staring at her business card as I write this, thinking about all of these things. Thinking about the communities in my own city that are marginalized and underserved. Thinking about the thousands of communities globally that are in even worse condition because they exist in a place where they don't even have clean, running water. My heart breaks.
I have yet to take her up on her offer. But I know that I will. I owe her so much. She cracked me open and revealed me to myself. She started me on a path of deeper healing and the need to offer that healing to others. With any luck, in the next two years, the skills I have to help marginalized and traumatized communities will multiply, and with it my ability to be of service.
I tell this story today for two reasons. The first, you are a powerful and influential being. The smallest of actions, the most trivial conversations, can have a large impact. Choose the words you say and the actions you do with care and compassion. The second, I want to re-engage with my why. I want everyone to re-engage with their own. It’s about to be spring again in New York. More than the start of a new year, spring to me is the time to recognize the roots, come back to the why, and then grow from and with it. There are so many new beginnings happening right now, and with them also some endings. In the past, I could tell that some of the fresh starts I’ve had were colored by old habits. So this time, I want things to be different. This time, I want to keep my why in the forefront of my heart and let it guide all of the choices I make. For the next few weeks, I'm going deep into my own heart and explore my why with you right here. Come on the journey. Start your own. Who knows, maybe change a few lives along the way. Keep that why in your heart, on your mind, in your breath. Let it guide you. When things get murky, come back to it. Your why holds all of the answers you need.