Today is my birthday. I am now the age my father was when he died. I was eight years old, and I knew for sure this is when people die. Yet, here I am.
When I was twenty-one, I went to China. I don’t remember much of it at all.
I think about that trip a lot, and my years living in New York City. If only I had been awake! How different my life would be. If only I had paid attention. Where was I?
To not be cold. Please let me get warm. I remember this. To stay in my hotel room and watch the ice-skaters on the Houhai Lake from sixteen floors up. Please, I promise, I will eat if I don’t die from frostbite.
Am I dying? I remember that.
That’s really all I wanted at the time: to not be cold. (I was always so cold.) To dream of what I would eat. More white rice than I had ever allowed myself to have in the past. I didn’t trust any of the food. (Not just there, but anywhere during that period of my life, and especially in China, where I had no idea what I was eating except it was in a brown sauce.) I will just have white rice I would ask someone who looked like they spoke English to translate for me. More white rice. So much white rice. It’s all I saw when we rode in the backs of buses in search of temples and people living on houseboats in Suzhou. All I wanted was to be warm like it was a life or death situation, which is how it felt to me during all those years I was starving myself, and, which in actuality, it probably was. All I can remember about those years is that I was always freezing, nails purple, lips blue, hands cold. China in January was brutal. I was freezing and hungry and my eyes were closed during most of the trip because, if I opened them, I would have to see.
Where was I?
I don’t know where I was. Somewhere between living and dead. Closer to dead.
But I haven’t died.
I am still here.
I am now closer to the living.
Here I am, in my pajamas with a glass of wine, listening to the muted rain competing with the ringing in my ears and wondering if other adults stay in their pajamas at 6:30 on a Saturday night and how could I be an adult when I don’t know how to do so many things?
And, then, I come back. Come back, Jen. Come back. To the land of the living, come back.
Here I am. I have not died.
I kept hearing that line in my head, and I wanted to write it as we took off from Taipei to Los Angeles, but I thought that if we crashed, I would have caused it. See, if Jen had never said that, if she had never assumed that we would be safe, we would be fine. It is her fault. So I didn’t write it then.
But now, here I am in my pajamas that belonged to my grandmother who died less than a year ago. I didn’t have any feelings for my grandmother (hold off on judging please), so when my mom gave me the pajamas—Jen, take these. They’re new. Never been worn—I had no issue. I needed some pj’s. I have no sentimental I miss my grandma so much every time I wear them. They are my pajamas, and if I didn’t know they had been hers, I wouldn’t know. There aren’t any ghosts or messages within the fabric or any secret keys to forgiveness in the little flowers. They are kind of tacky, and I love them for that. I write well in them.
So, I am in a dead woman’s pajamas on a Saturday evening, but I did not die.
I am here.
I am having a hard time being back from my Bali retreat. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want the trip to end; I want to stay in the safety of being away from responsibility, from fear, from I have to’s.
When I went to China with my Scholar’s Group at NYU, we stopped in Alaska on the way. It was dark and looking out the windows of the airport were fields of snow, or at least that is how I like to remember it. I wrote postcards and leaned against the glass as we waited for the flight to China. Flying to Bali made me remember these things as if I tucked them away and forgot where I put them. Oh, there you are, years of my life! Ah! Age twenty to thirty, there you are. I thought I had lost you.
Maybe it all comes rushing back at you like they say in the movies. Maybe your life comes rushing at you whether you are dying or not. Maybe this birthday is like a re-birth. I mean, I survived it. All those years I planned on being gone by thirty-eight. No, not consciously, but in the deep recesses of my sadness and the place where my poems are born, where I drowned myself in yoga, in those kinds of places.
Maybe your life comes rushing at you, and you better be prepared, or you will miss it again.
I think the second chance is really the last chance.
If you survive. I mean, if you make it past your due date (which I have, so to speak), and you miss your life again because your eyes are closed. Well, that’s your fault, Kiddo.
But hey, who’s missing anything?
I am here.
The flight from Bali was much better than the flight from China from what I remember, although, again, I don’t trust my memory. I could have flown first class for all I recall (I didn’t), but I was so checked out, so hungry, so tired, and so old at twenty-one that I wouldn’t have realized it.
Each place you go, you take a piece of that place with you to the next.
Whether the place is literal or not. Whether it is pain or joy or a child or darkness or heartbreak or love or your twenties. You take a piece of it with you whether you realize it or not.
In China, I saw women who would not be broken by the cold. Women who lived on dingy boats on a freezing river. Eventually, when I stopped being cold and started eating, I realized I had taken a piece of their tenacity with me. And, from Bali, a sense of commitment to their offerings, how seriously they take what they give. And how I do the same.
I have not died yet. I am here to share with you my journey, which is about to start. I have crossed over to the other side, and I am taking with me all the things I want to, which include the places I have been and the people and the cold and the places I think I went but can’t remember. They are mine to not remember.
I am taking all of it because I realize at this threshold of life and death that what makes us is not just blood and bone, but what we have seen, where we have been, whom we have loved, whom we have hurt, where we are going, and what we know we can do.
I know I can do this. I can go beyond where I thought I would ever go with grace and dignity, and, when I finally get there, wherever my dad is, if I ever get there, I will have earned it. And it will be my time. And I will tell him all about my adventures and how thirty-eight is not really the age all people die. How young it really is and how, although I am sure he is happy, wherever he is, he missed out on so much.
But that’s neither here nor there.
For now, I am here.
I am among the living.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Yoga® weekend retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Feb 1-3, 2013.
*Photo by A30_Tsitika