The day began with a phone call from a yoga student who lost a dog to bone cancer a few days ago. She told me the story of how a few years ago she had adopted two starving Rottweilers. The dogs, renamed Bonnie and Clyde, had been abandoned in a fenced backyard when their owner moved. By the time the two trapped dogs were rescued, they were skin and bones and in terrible shape. Bonnie and Clyde were inseparable buddies. My student called to say that she would be missing class because she could tell that Bonnie, the surviving dog, was depressed and mourning, and needed her to stay nearby.
I assured my student that staying home with her despondent dog was much more important than coming to class. Life is constantly reminding us that we do yoga to live—we don’t live to do yoga. We do yoga to help us cope with whatever life brings. And we do yoga to prepare for death.
When I got to Sacred Space Studio, a longtime student and friend that I hadn’t seen for about a year was waiting by the door. She asked, half kidding and half sheepish, “Can I come back to class?” “No!” I joked, “it’s too late.”
After class I remembered that she had stopped coming to yoga shortly after happily telling me that her boyfriend was moving in with her. I remembered how excited and optimistic she had been, describing how they were moving the furniture around to make space for him. So naturally I asked, “How are things going with the live-in boyfriend?”
“It was a total disaster, ” she replied. “I work all the time, on my days off I have my art, and on Sunday afternoon I need some quiet time. He was so needy . . . We’re still friends, but he had to move out. We still go out together, but he has to work on his stuff . . . I can’t do it for him.”
I would have been happy for her if things had worked out, but as it was, hearing her say “It was a disaster” reminded me of my own disasters that I’ve inadvertently averted. I drove home counting my blessings.
I know this is getting long, but I have to tell you about one more lesson today. As I was driving up the highway, just past the intersection of Cuyama and El Roblar, I saw a beautiful sight. A young couple with a big backpack, a guitar, a folded stroller, and a baby, hitchhiking. I took it all in as I flew past them. They were smiling confidently, each with one arm stretched straight toward the road, hand clenched, thumb up. I glanced up at my rear-view mirror and saw that the three cars behind me passed them, too. So what could I do? I haven’t forgotten my hippie roots. And I didn’t have the excuse of dogs in the back seat. So I pulled over, got out, and waved them over. As they ran toward me, I threw the dirty dog blankets in the trunk.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Matilija Canyon,” they replied.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m only going as far as Fairview. Will that help you any?”
“Yes, that gets us closer . . .”
So we put the big guitar case and stroller in the trunk and squeezed the backpack, mom, dad, and baby in the back. (I had groceries and yoga props up front.)
As we drove off, I quizzed them. “Where are you from?”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m from Holland.”
“Oh, we’ve been to Holland.”
We exchanged names. I knew it would give them a kick if I mentioned I was a former mayor of Ojai, and sure enough, they thought that was a hoot. I could tell they were seasoned travelers . . . and they had a distinctly European vibe, like my relatives. They reminded me of myself, way back in 1968, when I was an optimistic teenager hitchhiking with my baby boy.
As we passed the Deer Lodge, I decided to take them at least part of the way into Matilija Canyon—an epic adventure. As we drove deeper into the mountains, they told me how much they love Ojai, how they felt safe here, how nice all the people are. As we entered the Canyon, the view was so breathtaking that I could feel my heart bursting and tears welling up inside. I made up my mind that I’d find ways to spend more days here, like I used to do decades ago . . .
“This is how we imagined California would be like . . . ” the couple repeated several times. “We love it here! We just love it here!”