I’m a lucky gal. My husband and I have a date night almost every single week, sometimes two a week. While what we do and where we go on these nights varies, I almost always meet him at the bar / restaurant / night club / pool hall / city block sized watering hole for happy hour. Since he’s worked there since little tiny 6lb Jesus was a baby and I meet him there at least once a week, we’ve built a little family of employees and regulars. I know that on any given day, I’ll find the guy who owns the auto shop / vintage pinball machine arcade, the guy who owns his own roll your own cigarette shop, the guy who works in advertising but specializes in smart ass remarks, the couple who are king and queen of WHO DAT nation, the banker and her husband who is at least 17 feet tall, the martial arts trainer, and a random assortment of employees and other regulars who get their mail at the corner of the bar. While they might not all be there at once, some of them are always there and there are very, very rarely any new additions and when new people join this ragtag bunch of merry pranksters, it’s never been anyone I have known prior.
Until last week, that is.
Last week, I dropped my kiddos off with my mother for an overnight visit and made my way to the gathering place. I walked across the floor and out the door to the patio and stopped dead in my tracks. There, sitting at the table with the regulars, was a face I hadn’t seen in close to 20 years. Shit. This was not going to be pretty. This girl – woman (hell, we’re both in our 30s) – was sitting there looking happy and confident (ish – confidence was never her strong suit,) and talking to my buddies and, at first, I wasn’t sure how to handle this situation. This was a blast from the past that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but here it was so I just took a deep breath, walked on out, and sat down. Then I saw it: her face fell into her lap. Her shoulders slumped. She visibly withdrew. And, once more, she was the girl she was 20 years ago and I was faced once again with the truth of who I once was.
I was a strange duck in high school. Weren’t we all? To some extent, I felt like I didn’t have a “group,” and to another extent, I felt like every group was my group. I was a fairly attractive, thin but curvy girl who was in student council, the highest level performance choir, AP classes, and was a part of a peer support group, and I was the daughter of a prominent minister at a high class church. I was also hanging out in cars with friends, chain smoking before class, running around with outsiders and dropouts, and anyone who could and would get me a bottle of something at least 80 proof and a bag of something I could roll and smoke. I was fairly well known in many circles, but that doesn’t mean that everyone liked me. I’m sure there were a lot of people who hated me and, honestly I can’t blame them. I could be mean. I could be really vicious with my words and my eyes. I was often highly judgemental and quite vocal about my judgement. I was egotistical and spoiled and self righteous and … if I was your friend, I was your very good friend, but if I wasn’t, watch out. This woman who was sitting at my table with my friends wasn’t my friend all those years ago.
While I don’t remember any specific moments of me being cruel to her, I know that I had to have been in some fashion or another. I remember what I thought of her at the time and all those feelings came rushing right back when I saw her. I had to stop and take a breath and remember that a lot of time had passed and maybe she wasn’t the same person she was then. I certainly don’t think I’m the same person I was back then. The fact that I’m writing this and putting it out there is proof of that (I would have never admitted fault or failings all those years ago.) Suddenly, I was awash with so many feelings and emotions all at once.
- Damn, why am I running into people from my past now?
- Hrm. She looks almost exactly the same as she used to (unfortunately for her.)
- Wow, that was snarky!
- How do I look?
- Wow, that was vain!
- Shit, I was really mean to her.
- Dammit, I was really unfair to her back then.
- I’m probably being unfair to her right now.
- I’m scum.
- I aged better than she did.
- WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING HERE?
- I wasn’t a good person then.
- Am I a good person now?
- Guilt guilt guilt guilt guilt
- Shame shame shame shame
- Ego ego ego ego ego ego
- Fuck, I have to do this (see the disclaimer page – I cuss. A lot.)
- How could I have been so horrible then?
- Can I be different now?
- Again, FUCK!!!
I waited a couple of minutes before I said anything to her. I wanted to pretend that she didn’t know who I was, and she certainly pretended that she didn’t know who I was. I sat there at the table, hiding behind my mirrored aviators, and observed her wither. I just sat and observed my own feelings. I was panicking. I will admit that it was SO VERY TEMPTING to return to my state of behavior from 20 years ago. It was, in fact, my first instinct to do the wrong thing. Have I changed at all??? Ugh. I sat in discomfort for seemed like 45 minutes but was probably closer to 2 minutes and then it hit me: Feelings aren’t facts and, even though those feelings came rushing to me, I don’t have to act on them. Yes, I felt the same way that I felt then, but I didn’t have to act the way I acted then. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!
I took my sunglasses off, called her name, and rose to shake her hand saying, “Hi! It’s Sarah Wells, well, Sarah Kohl now. I haven’t seen you in so many years! How are you?” And then I sat back down and proceeded to mentally pat myself on the back. She opened her mouth and, after saying Hi, proceeded to pull out her only weapon – she mentioned my ex in front of my husband and the entire table of my friends, most of whom don’t even know I have an ex. I believe she mentioned him in an attempt to hurt me, to undermine me, to throw me off my game. Once upon a time, it would have worked. Once upon a time, I would have taken the bait and I would have behaved the way I used to and shown my evil side, but I didn’t. I didn’t do anything at all like what she was hoping for. I smiled, said I saw him very recently and he seemed to be doing well. I mentioned that we are Facebook friends and we have no animosity between us. I stated that my husband and I have been together over 13 years now and that relationship is ancient history and we have both moved on. I smiled. I breathed. I moved on. I realized that I *have* changed. I have matured and grown up and found compassion and empathy and the true understand that we’re all just humans and we’re all just trying to walk each other home. I have learned to live my yoga – most of the time. Hey, what can I say? I’m human!
The “reunion” fizzled slowly after that and she left. I was very proud of myself. I didn’t succumb to my initial reaction. I did fall into a bit of self-loathing when I thought about what I did all those years ago and who I was, but that makes perfect sense because all of those heinous traits of mine were born of self-loathing even back then. I was able to look at the situation and choose a better course of action. I was able to breathe and realize that the past is the past and the future has limitless possibilities. I was able to see that I get to choose who I am and what I do and that I am capable of making the right choices. I was able to do all those things and do them sincerely, and if I could do it in that situation, I can do it in other situations, too.
I have since run into her again. Same location, same people. This time she wasn’t hiding her head, she was able to be around me without visible qualms. She was still kind of standoffish, but it was better. I noticed something, though. Not much about her has changed. She still does all the annoying things that she did all those years ago. She is still kind of a social nightmare. She is unkempt and unhealthy and unattractive. She is also human. She is curious. She is a survivor. She is a mother. She is doing the very best she can with what she has. She is being true to herself. She is a part of my human family and she is worthy of love and respect. This, my friends, is huge progress for me. This is living visible proof that yoga has changed my life inside and out.
We talked for a bit. She asked me a few questions about yoga and what she could do to relieve an issue with her neck. It was still awkward, but we made it through and, when she left, I gave her a hug. I HUGGED HER. I think it blew both of our minds. LIFE MOMENT RIGHT THERE.
You cannot have a yoga practice without it changing your entire being. While you might start out practicing because you want Madonna arms or Mick Jagger’s ass (hmmmmmmm Mick Jagger’s ass……,) eventually you cannot help but having an internal makeover, as well. It opens your heart. It opens your mind. It opens your eyes. It opens your soul right up. It changes the way you see things, other people, and the way you see yourself. Eventually, you can start to face even the ugliest truths with acceptance, compassion, and love. Even if it takes a kick in the ass to realize it.