It was my first garden ever, a dream decades in the making come to life. In late May my boyfriend planted it with our oldest son, who was thrilled at the chance to wield a shovel and "help" with the wheelbarrow. His five-year-old five-minute-long attention span got the best of his interest early on, but Daddy toiled on. I watched from the window with the two-year-old, his little voice occasionally declaring "Daddy!" as he pointed to his father's folded form, which we didn't see upright again for a couple hours.
And then we waited.
Not long after the first rain fell to nourish our seedlings, the cycle of life bore its burden in full. As life began to bloom in our garden bed, death fell upon our home. A family of five became four. An annual trip to the ocean passed us by in favor of scheduled visits and makeshift family nights shrouded in the uncertainty of what the future holds. The sky cried for us all summer. And with a slight chill on our hearts, we watched our garden grow.
When I was 23 and a second-time-around college student, I chose ceramics to fulfill one of my core requirements. That was 18 years ago, but I can easily recall how the dry, gray clay gave way to a creamy texture as I sprinkled it with water and shaped it into a small cone between both hands. With pressure from the bottom of my right fist on its apex and support from my left palm against its side, I compressed the cone into a short, fat cylinder. The anticipation would well up inside me as I pushed my right thumb into its top to make a shallow well and then began pulling the clay from its center with both thumbs on the inside and fingers on the outside, thinning it out, lifting it up and up. As my potter's wheel turned round and round, the clay would lightly stroke my fingertips, forming faint lines all the way up its length, and I would exhale with pleasure as I watched it stretch tall and stand strong.
There wasn't a moment I didn't enjoy my time in the studio, so much so that I signed up for another semester and then a class at a local studio after I graduated. The ritual of throwing down a ball of clay, wetting it, shaping it, and lifting it upward to become a creation of one's own, it's what love is made of. That famous scene in the movie Ghost isn't so far fetched. The feel of wet clay is very sensual—and perhaps sexual, although my feeling is those are two messes best kept separate. Eighteen years later, products of my affair with clay are part of my everyday life: I eat from a cereal bowl I made, store utensils in a bulbous urn, keep change in a short, fat pot. And still other pieces remain in high-up places safe from reckless little hands, so I can remember for years to come the joy of that moment in time.
In late July I celebrated my birthday dinner with two girlfriends I've known since college. Over tapas and talk of separation, my girlfriends extolled the many virtues of yoga. I had only done it once prior, when I was 16 at the local YWCA with my best friend. All I remember is spending a lot of time doing nothing, and that maybe Ginny fell asleep at the end. In the same year I tried yoga for the time, I became a runner, and from then on I assumed sitting too still for too long on a mat wasn't for me. But on my 41st birthday, between bites of indulgent combinations of sugar and butter, amidst sideways glances at college girls blissfully unaware that firm butts don't last forever, my girlfriends assured me yoga wouldn't put me to sleep.
A few weeks later, I began a new journey with a yogi named Adriene on YouTube, albeit in the discomfort of my own home with a two-year-old clumsily petting my downward dog. I quickly found respect for a practice I had too easily dismissed, for how it emboldens me to find release in this body balled up with worry. In practicing yoga I've learned to allow myself to think of nothing at all, for maybe the first time ever. In forward fold, I become soft and supple like the clay between my fingers so many years ago. With my palms as support, I lift my self, softly and slowly, up and up, until I can stretch no more. When Adriene says reach for the sky, I do in earnest.
When life shifts shape, it's asking us to respond. What will you do? Last summer, in my garden and in my yoga practice, I felt removed from unresolved situations, unpaid bills, unanswered emails, unrepentant anxiety—even if momentarily. When you find a moment to savor, it saves you from yourself. And what is contentment if not a collection of moments? Put your hands into the earth. Reach for the sky.