An hour before terrorists murdered 305 Egyptians in the Sinai last week, I headed home from Osana Yoga center—a twenty minute walk.
Yoga challenges me physically and emotionally. I am pushed harder than I would ever voluntarily push myself. Sometimes, in class I reach a point where I want to beg “STOP! I can’t do this!” But then I surprise myself by doing a bit more, holding that pose a bit longer.
I cry, sometimes, in yoga class. It doesn’t happen often but it usually isn’t because I am hurting or I’m tired or I think I can’t do something. I cry because a part of my body releases something it has been holding—some emotion that I didn’t know was there.
During my first class at Osana, we lay on our mats, bent kneed, and then let our knees fall to the side. A hip opener, the calm-voiced instructor said. The room was dark, filled with 12 prone bodies. Immediately, I felt a sob rise and while I was able to squelch the wholly unexpected noise, tears leaked out the corners of my eyes into my ears and I lay there, wondering what was going on. The instructor noticed when I wiped my face, and she spoke soothingly to the class, “Sometimes some positions release emotions.” Oh, I thought. Yes, they do.
Another time, we did a chest opening exercise that was quite strange. We lay on our backs on two blocks on the floor, arms spread to the side, back arched, head back. I felt the strangest sensation in my chest, a little pop that was not muscular. It felt like my heart opened up just a little bit and afterwards I felt lighter than I have in years. It was as if a part of me had been scrunched ever since Ben died. And now it opened up, like a little butterfly, hopeful in the sun.
So I was feeling peaceful and relaxed and happy as I walked the 20 minutes home. The sun was shining as it always does, and I was effortlessly ignoring the honking and the exhaust fumes.
The street between my house and the yoga center is busy with cars, bikes, minibuses and taxis. And people, though not many. Walking is not something a lot of people do here. I think they must take taxis a lot. Anyway, I looked up ahead, and I could see a man walking toward me, head down. He was big—really big. Young and kinda sweating, which was a bit odd because the weather was a perfect 70 degrees. I didn’t think too much about it, but I certainly noted him because that’s what women do when they’re walking alone.
As he approached, he really didn’t look at me and I really didn’t look at him—until he said something in Arabic that I didn’t understand and held out his hand. My first instinct was to pull my hand away because that’s what you do when someone in a developing country offers you something.
I learned this in Kosovo when a man handed me a braided bracelet and, once it was in my hand, refused to take it back. He just kept asking me to pay for it. It is a thing that vendors do to tourists.
Anyway, in that split second as he passed me, arm extended, I suppressed the urge to pull my hand away because I glimpsed what he was holding out to me—a flower. I opened my hand, and he laid it gently in my palm without stopping. I stopped, though. And stood there looking at the pink bougainvillea blossom in wonder.
I walk Port Said street twice a week and I have yet to see a pink bougainvillea vine along its sidewalks. I imagined that he had picked this flower while he was walking just because it was pretty. Or maybe he had seen it blowing on the ground and stooped to rescue it from the dirt. And then he had held it in his hand without crushing it as he turned onto Port Said Street. And then he had seen me.
I turned to look back at him, and he was gone.
I find it hard to reconcile the horrors of terrorism with the kindness of strangers. Both are achingly real.
However, I choose to maintain my belief in goodness while acknowledging that not everyone is good. I admit this is a feat made easier by the healing of my own wounded heart.
But healing a heart, through time and effort and yoga, is a worthwhile endeavor. It allowed me to see the flower in an extended hand.