Friday, September 23, 2016


This is agony, but it’s still a thrill for me. ~ Agony, Paloma Faith

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

These are the words of the great poet and storyteller, Maya Angelou. I’m guessing she knew a thing or two about agony, because she spent her lifetime writing her stories.

By comparison, I’ve only spent about a moment of mine. And that’s because, before yoga, I didn’t even know I had any stories inside of me, much less any kind of agony.

But once I started writing I got to know myself a whole lot more. Writing down my stories helped me see inside in a way I wasn’t able to before. I’ve even solved the mystery of the writer who lives in me. I wasn’t even aware that she was there, but she came to light one night when I checked in at yoga.

“Oh, you’re the writer!” exclaimed the young lady from behind the front desk when I told her my name.

At the time, I never saw myself as such, and I almost laughed. But I found her looking at me proudly and expectantly, and the importance of taking myself more seriously suddenly dawned on me.

And so I caught myself and answered, “Well, yes, I guess I am!” not just for her but also for me.

In order to write honestly, I’ve had to admit to some agony. If nothing else, it’s made me recognize a lot of who I am inside, all that’s good and all that’s not. And as I’ve never been one to share much personally, writing it down for others to see has been somewhat of a big deal for me.  

The agony first appeared in my practice. I think it had something to do with the poses. Early on, an instructor explained how the poses heal us by releasing our emotions. At the time, I didn’t understand how something like this could possibly be true, but it wasn’t long before I was experiencing it for myself.

Like the breath, the poses drew something in and let something out, and somehow that made it easier to breathe. Once I noticed this, my practice gained momentum, and I flowed as if I were desperate for air. I felt an urgency to it, as if something in me knew that I needed to do it.    

All that moving moved me! I felt as though I had spent forever in some kind of traffic jam and suddenly all of the cars were moving. I think that’s why in the beginning so many emotions arose all at once. I felt amazing and awful; awake and tired; happy and sad. And, like a driver wildly alternating lanes, I did my best to navigate these new highs and lows.

The practice invigorated me, and I loved it, but the chaos it revealed was surprising. I think what was coming up for me was what Maya Angelou might have called my agony. Apparently, she was right about the stories that get stuck inside. When we ignore them, they can hurt!

And so this was the shape I was in when I said yes to an opportunity to write about yoga. I was surprised to have agreed, and even more surprised to discover how much I had to say! With so many emotions driving me, my writing quickly gained the same momentum as my practice. It shared the same urgency, and I wrote in the same way, as if I were desperate for air.

Like the breath, the words also drew something in and let something out, and that made it easier to breathe, too. The words were as healing as the practice. In them I sensed the same flow of energy, and very quickly they worked the same magic. Each story released a little bit of agony, and that was a good thing. It’s why I had to write them down, as soon as they came up.  

So, really, it’s the poses that help reveal our stories. Like positions of recognition, each one shows us who we are. We twist and we turn and we stand on our hands, and somehow the shapes undo our traffic jams.

The poses release our karma, or what some might call our agony, and that clears the way for a smooth flow of energy. Like the words of a story, the poses synchronize our bodies, minds and spirits, and that’s how we really heal. Because when we are aligned like this, there is a clarity in how we see ourselves, all that’s good and all that’s not. And this is how things start to make sense. It’s what makes it possible for us to connect the dots, so that we can tell our own stories, if not to others, then at the very least to ourselves. 

Before yoga, it had been quite some time since I was properly aligned. But the practice has worked. It’s connected me with myself and with others who also do their best to see, one of whom happens to be a master of astrology.

I’ve met him a few times. He is an author, too, and his writings connect the dots of all mankind, all the way back to ancient times. With stories based on the galaxy, he’s told me the story of me, which of course includes a little bit of agony.

At the end of our most recent session, he pulled a deck of Tarot cards from a blue velvet pouch and spread them face down across the table.    

“Close your eyes and see yourself,” he said. “And now pick a card.”

I closed my eyes and looked inside to all that I have synchronized. And then I selected a card and handed it to him.   

“This is you!” he exclaimed, and he showed it to me. “It’s the card of the High Priestess!”

I looked hard at the card. On it was an image of a woman, seated in Lotus pose with a scroll across her lap. She was a yogi and a writer. He said that she was royalty. He said that she was me!

And then he sat back in his chair and looked at me, proudly and expectantly.

“It’s time you saw inside,” he said, “to what it is that I can see.”

And then he simply shrugged his shoulders, because it’s up to me to be the story of my own discovery. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


“Limitless undying love, which shines around me like a million suns, it calls me, on and on, across the universe.” ~ Across the Universe, The Beatles
Last night at yoga we did a few stretches before we were called to the tops of our mats for the start of practice. Once there, the instructor asked us to set an intention.
I used to set an intention by making a wish, like a private prayer. But I’d struggle to come up with something quickly, and I couldn’t always get it done. So I started to simplify things, and now I just conjure up an image, usually one of someone I love, and then I wait to see what comes to mind.
Last night the image was my son, decked out for the swim portion of the New York City Triathlon. He was in his wet suit, wearing goggles and a bathing cap, mid-air in a feet-first jump into the Hudson River!
Only two days earlier I had witnessed this event, supporting him with family and friends as he swam and biked and ran in memory of a loved one whom he considers his brother. This young man had shared a life with my daughter, and when we lost him, so many plans were cut short, including the one he had made with my son to enter the triathlon.
Loss is a complicated thing, and when it takes us by surprise, as this one did, there’s never a plan for it. Yet that’s what loss seems to beg for most. It begs for plans that no one wants to make, plans that no longer include the one we’ve lost but that still remain very much about him. 
For my son the triathlon was one of those plans, so he designed a training regimen.
Since he had never been a big swimmer, he signed himself up for swim classes for triathletes. The only one to show up in board shorts and winded after just a few laps, it would take several months and a Speedo to build up the skills and stamina necessary to swim in open water.
He mapped out routes to run and ride around New York, reporting home with photos and updates from all over the city.
He kept up his yoga schedule and did his circuit training. He ate as clean as he could.
And then he selected a charity in the name of this young man, so that others who wanted to support him could also become part of his plan.
And he respectfully asked the family of the one we lost whether they’d mind if he rode the red bicycle that had belonged to their son, the one that had hung in the home he and my daughter had shared. And the family graciously agreed, because they, too, were part of the plan.
My son did all of this on his own, for that’s the other thing about loss. It’s personal, and so even when it’s shared, it’s yours in a way that’s not anyone else’s. It leaves you on your own to cope in ways that only you can.
And the way for my son proved to be the triathlon. He had set his own intention, and that’s what I think I was witnessing when he jumped into the Hudson.
Each person is on his own in this race of individual endeavors that include swimming, biking and running. These activities are not done holding hands. There are no teammates. Even the training is individualized, and so are the results. Everyone participating would be receiving his own finishing times for each section of the race and also for the transitions in between. 
We cheered him on as he swam steadily for 1500 meters, or nearly 20 blocks in New York City measurements. We hollered as he came out of the water in a sprint toward the transition area, where we then lost sight of him for a few minutes while he readied himself on the bike. Then he came out of the gate and pedaled away, as we cheered him again and held up our signs. And then, while he rode for the next 25 miles, our group made its way to a place he’d earlier scouted out, a spot outside a café where we’d line up to watch him run by.    
And as I stood there waiting for my son, a familiar feeling came over me. It was the one that I have at the end of my yoga classes, when I realize I’ve just done something on my own with others who have done the same. At the end of the practice, my individual effort suddenly feels like a shared effort, and my heart fills with love for everyone in the room, even for those I don’t know.
Maybe this is why the instructor asks us to thank the people practicing next to us when we’re done. It brings home the fact that none of us are in it alone.
And so I found myself clapping and cheering for those I didn’t know, because outside of that café my heart had filled like it does at yoga. I recognized the shared effort among the runners, even though I’m sure they had each set their own intentions when they jumped into the Hudson at the start of the race.
There were almost 3,500 triathletes and just as many or more spectators, and standing there I loved them all! Suddenly, my son ran by, and I reached up with the others to give him his high five. He was grinning and feeling good, and I wondered if maybe he could feel it, too, that feeling that he wasn’t in it alone.   
At the time of our loss and since, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming amount of love and support that’s come our way. In the aloneness of our grief, we’ve been touched by so many others who have generously reached out from every single part of our lives from as far back as I can remember. And this is what stays with me, and it’s what I was reminded of as I watched the race and experienced the shared spirit and universal love that made everyone there a part of the plan.
We saw my son again near the finish line. He sprinted home on his own and brought every one of us along with him. And then we didn’t leave! All of us spent the rest of the day together, sharing food and drink and laughter, and some of us even shed some tears.
Later that evening I asked my son what he had thought about during the race. For me the race had been quick, but for him it had lasted two hours, 47 minutes and 10 seconds! I imagined that was enough time for a triathlete to think. And he told me that, in addition to this and in addition to that, what had come to mind was the one we had lost, and that he had thought about him the whole time.
Jeff Bart and Ben Samit planned to do the New York City Triathlon together. To make a donation in Jeff’s memory, please visit Ben's link here. All donations go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Ben Samit completing a triathlon swim.
“Bring all the lovers to the fold, ‘cause no one is gonna lose their soul.” ~ Love Is My Religion, Ziggy Marley

We’ve been studying the soul.

We’ve been reading books and taking classes and looking for one soul, in particular. He belonged to my daughter and left without warning, leaving us all at a loss. He was the one who fed her soul, so that she was never hungry, and now her plate is empty, and she has no appetite.

He was a loving young man who knew that his body could feed his soul. He was a runner and a biker who had completed marathons and bike races. He loved to dance and had just started practicing yoga. He often worked out with my son, and together they had talked about entering a triathlon.

From the books and our classes, we are learning that certain souls are tied together in what are called “soul contracts”. Supposedly, we make these contracts before we are born. So the people in our lives, those we love and even those we don’t, are here with us because we’ve previously agreed upon it. It’s not anything we may ever remember, but it may be something we already know.

This is why we regard the soul of the one who left us as a brother to my son. His name was Jeffrey Paul Bart.

After he left, my son called me.

“Hey, Ma,” he said. “I’m going to enter the New York City Triathlon!”

I should not have been surprised. My son had once thought it would be a good idea to run up the steps of the Empire State Building! It was a vertical race. I never knew there were such things, but I’ve since learned that they happen all around the world. They’re called run-ups. The sign-up for the run-up was closed, but my son had entered a lottery and somehow gotten himself a late spot. He called to let me know.

“Hey, Ma,” he said over the phone. “I’m going to run up the Empire State Building!”

We hung up, and I looked it up. I’d never even taken the elevator up, much less the steps, but apparently the Empire State building had a lot. There were 86 floors and 1,576 steps!

He started to watch online videos. Apparently, a champion vertical racer had posted videos on how best to run up the steps. There were instructions on how to grab the railings and how to swing around to the next flight. My son gave me his own instructions. I was to watch the videos, too, so that I could listen intelligently as he mapped out his strategies.

He picked a charity for those who wanted to support him and ran up the stairwells of his apartment building as practice. His doorman was in charge of the stopwatch. He conditioned further with lots of yoga.

A few short months later, he ran to the top of the Empire State Building! 

Really, I don’t know what made him decide to do that. I don’t even know if he knows. I just think he knew that he had to do it, and so he did. If I think hard enough about it, I would say that, on some level, he knew that his body, too, had the ability to feed his soul, and that his soul was hungry.

Swimming is a big part of a triathlon. In fact, it’s the very first part, and my son was never really a big swimmer. When he was little, he was so little that it took some time before he had the strength to hold his chest high enough to keep his head above water. And so it was a while before he could, and then it was never really an activity he actively pursued.  

My son began to put his plans in place for the race. He registered for the NYC TRI and signed up for a swim class. Then he chose a charity in memory of his brother Bart and bought a bike map of the city, so he would know where to go. He started running, too, and he further conditioned with lots of yoga.

I listened as he mapped out his strategies, and for months I watched as he fed his soul in the way that he knows how. He met with a run coach and sent me videos from his swim coach. He worked out his workout on either end of his work day, in the mornings and in the evenings and on the weekends, too.

The training provided my son with a purpose at a time when he was looking for his. The loss of a loved one can leave us questioning ours, and that’s why we want so badly to believe in our souls. We want to believe there’s a reason we’re here and a purpose in the company we keep. We want to know that it matters when we love someone and that our contracts with them are for keeps.

There was so much more to be done. My son acquired a wet suit and goggles and a bathing cap, and then he arranged for the bike and the shorts and the shoes. He actually borrowed the bike that inspired him to enter the race, the red one that hung in his soul brother’s place, in the home that my daughter had shared. He learned the gears and met with the guys at the shop to learn even more, and he spoke with his brother as he rode through the city of New York.  

“Bart and I rode the streets hard,” he reported one day. “We cursed up a storm,” he said of the cars and the people who got in the way.     

And then it was time for a practice race, and his sister and I were invited along. He had signed up for a nearby triathlon in a town outside the city. He packed up his car with the bike and his things, and we booked a hotel overnight. The next morning, we were up before dawn, and we drove to the beach where he put his wet suit on.

He entered the water and swam out with the others until they became dots in the distance, blue like the color of their caps. We watched the blue dots move along the horizon and then turn toward the shore before they rose up to become people again. And we clapped for him as he came out of the sea and ran by on the beach and transitioned to the ride on his bike.

But then another rider collided with him, and he and the bike were down before they could even begin! And I have to admit that I heard him curse as he got up from the ground and fixed up the bike and then pedaled off, as if it had never happened. And we cheered him on then and did the same again as he rounded the bend in a second and final loop.   

And then it was time for the run. He stashed his bike and put on his watch as he ran, and then he was gone again. And that’s when my daughter and I walked to the finish line, so that we could greet him when he came in. And it was not too much longer before we saw him appear, a dot in the distance again. And then we heard his name in the air as he drew near, and we clapped and hollered and cheered.

“Here comes a runner with some real grit!” the announcer announced over the loud speaker. “There’s no one behind him right now. There he is! Ben Samit from New York, New York, New York!”
He blew by the finish line, and suddenly he was with us, catching his breath, elated, a little bloody from the spill on his bike. He gave us big, sweaty hugs, and we took celebratory pictures in the rising sun, and then we listened as he told us what it was like.

He said the bike ride was good, and that he still had gas in the tank after the run. But the swim, he said, was not good at all.

Although I hadn’t noticed, he told us he had entered the water but was unable to exhale his air. He wasn’t prepared for the cold temperatures and lack of visibility, and he froze right there on the spot. He almost turned back but made the decision instead to move on ahead and swim with his eyes above water. It wasn’t until the end when he headed to shore that he finally put his head in for the rest of the swim.

“Bart was definitely with me in the water,” he said.

We took so many photos of that day, but they don’t do justice to the image that remains in my mind. In the mental picture I keep, I see my son from behind. He’s in his wet suit and goggles and cap, and he’s moving into the water at the start of the race.

The day has dawned, and it freezes this moment in time. He’s hungry and ready to feed his soul.

Next up: The NYC TRI.

Jeff Bart and Ben Samit planned to do the New York City Triathlon together. To support Ben’s race in Jeff’s memory, click here. All donations go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook.and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


“I’ll rise up, in spite of the ache. I’ll rise up, and I’ll do it a thousand times again.” ~ Rise Up, Andra Day

My daughter had a tragic loss that's left a gaping space. And so I’m spending time beside her, as she struggles to find her place.

In yoga, I hear so much about space. We’re supposed to make space, clear space and even hold space. When I first started practicing, I didn’t understand. But soon the practice grabbed a hold of me, and, like a key, it opened up a space inside. And it’s in this space where all my incremental shifts take place.

My daughter’s world has shifted. She’s lost her love. Without warning, the man who was always there was suddenly nowhere. And even though she knows he’s gone, she can’t help but try to find him. She searches for him and yearns for him and wants to talk to him.

“He’s at my fingertips!” she cries, incredulously. “He’s at the tip of my tongue!”

In her grief she looks around and shows me all their special spots in town. She points out a restaurant, a park, a store, and she tells me what they ate and said and more. We walk and talk and laugh and cry, and she begs to understand the reasons.

She has big questions. She asks if they were right to share a sacred space, or whether they had tempted fate. She didn’t know a storm was rolling in and asks me why she couldn’t save him.

Her questions, I tell her, are too big for answers. They are of matters Divine, and so we don’t get to know why in this lifetime. Our task now, I say, is to believe in the Light, even though we are in the dark. 

And then I tell her that they did everything right, and that it's important to have faith and know that she’s safe, and to be patient as she waits for her incremental shifts to take place.  

We’ve been told that grief is like a river. Water finds its way, no matter what’s in the way. This is why there is a lot of work ahead; the tears that flow need a place to go. And so I practice for us both, to fortify my faith and to hold my daughter’s space.

And at night I ask the Light to help her on her way.

There’s really no instruction on how best to hold another person’s space. It’s something that takes practice, and it’s likely easier to do if it’s been done for you. And so I considered myself lucky one day after class, when I got the chance to let someone hold mine. And, since that's not something I would ordinarily do, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t get it right the first time. 

I met a man who could actually hold people up in the air. And even though we’d never met, I let him lift me up on his feet. But right away I braced myself instead of leaning in, and that’s when he stopped and offered what turned out to be some lifelong instruction. 

“Relax,” he said, as I dangled above, and he wiggled my arms to loosen me up.

“It’s time to let someone help you. You’ve done too much on your own.”

His words skipped along the surface of the river, and, just like that, I let go and let him guide me upside down and all around.

From high up in the air I listened as he told me what to do and pulled me this way and that. I even closed my eyes. With just his hands and feet, he held my inside space and made some room for yet another shift to take place.

“Thanks for jumping on my feet and trusting,” he later said to me.

Trust is also a practice that acts like a key. It opens up space for more accessibility. I saw this happen with my daughter. She had chosen a man who had chosen her, too, and this had made her heart expand. 

And then I watched as she carefully placed it in his hands. Slowly, she let surrender become part of her plan, and I saw her contentment grow. To me, it was as if she had flown on his feet in the air, and then closed her eyes and found balance there.

And now she's grieving deeply and has a lot of healing to do. Her space is empty without him. It’s hard for her to feel safe and have faith and to wait for her incremental shifts to take place. She frets that he’s not coming back, and she longs to know exactly where he is.

The days move on, and we continue to talk of things Divine, and I listen as she speaks her mind. And I remind her that she’s been left intact, that inside she still has her Light. In fact, I tell her that because of him, she’s even more of herself than before. And then, one day, as if to prove my point, her Light inside was recognized.

We were at a practice bursting with yogis in a bright and beautiful space. The instructor led a vigorous flow, while circling around the room. She gave instructions through a microphone, and she asked a lot of questions. But they weren’t the kind to be answered. They were only the kind to be asked.

“Why do some people get to live to the age of 96, while others move on too soon?"

We stared at one another. The question seemed to have come out of nowhere, and then the instructor seemed to come out of nowhere, too. She popped up in front of my daughter and faced her at the front of her mat, nose-to-nose in Mountain pose. And then she looked her in the eye.

“You think I can’t see the Divine in you?” she demanded into her microphone. “I see the Divine in you!”

For us it was a profound moment. And yet her words, like mine, fall short of comfort.

Still, each day, I watch as my daughter rises up and moves through her grief in the same graceful way as she moves through her flow. Somehow she manages to bring us all together, in spite of feeling alone. She rides the river with her head above water, while every day doing what’s next and while every minute missing him.

Soon it will be time for me to go home. It’s going to be very hard to leave. For I think that then I’ll have time to take it all in, and that’s when the big questions will rise up again. And then it'll be me who will have to have faith and know that I’m safe and wait for my incremental shifts to take place.

But in the end I think that’s okay. There’s healing to do, and asking is how we begin. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


But where are you now? Where are you now? ~ Where Are You Now, Mumford and Sons

It’s said that our souls are too big for our bodies.

This mystical fact has its roots in many ancient religions and it’s believed by many today.

It’s almost a relief to be one of the believers, because then, on the days when we wonder if we’re too small to matter, we can remember that we’re actually so big that we don’t even fit inside ourselves.

This idea helps in times of grief, and so it’s helping us now because we are grieving. We’re feeling so small because our questions are so big. They hardly fit inside our brains. Whereas before we used to wonder what to wear or where to go, we now ponder questions as big as our souls.

Where did he go? Why did this happen?

When I first started yoga I thought I was asking all the big questions. I thought the big questions had to do with my practice. I wanted answers so that I could exercise and get fit. So the only questions I ever thought to ask were about where to put my elbows or how to position my feet. I even took some private lessons so that I could ask some more.

But the more I learned, the more questions I had. Every time I thought I had enough information, I discovered that there was still more to learn! Every pose could be taken deeper, so there was never really an endpoint.

There was no final answer.

When questions have no answers, we’re left to turn to our faith. But what if we question that, too? What if what happens also makes us question our faith?

Grief requires a lot of faith, but that doesn’t mean we stop asking questions. Even if we believe there is a place where he’s gone and a higher purpose to what’s happened, we still want to know where he is and why he’s there. We still want him back.

I didn’t know the practice of yoga required any sort of faith. In fact, up until the day I first stepped into the yoga studio, I hadn’t really given my faith much thought. I had been away from it for a long time.

But then as I practiced my questions grew larger than just the ones about the poses. I’m not sure why moving on the mat makes me wonder about where I am and why things happen, but that’s what happens. Soon I started listening in on the conversations that take place in the nooks and crannies of the studio, the ones before and after class and sometimes on the sidewalk outside. These conversations were all about energy and our subtle bodies, about our chakras and our spirit.

My instructors tell me it’s all about the energy. They say we are all made up of energy.

“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as energy in me,” I told them.

“Yes you did,” they said. “You just didn’t have the words for it.”

So now I have the words. Now I know that inside all of us is something called prana, or energy. And when we practice, our prana moves through our chakras, or energy centers. The practice helps shift our energy, and when our energy is flowing well, we are okay physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is how the practice becomes about so much more than where we put our elbows or how we position our feet.

But when painful things happen to us, our chakras get blocked and our energy gets stuck. And we have to practice grieving for our energy to flow again.

The loss of a loved one reaches deep into our chakras. It impacts our sense of family (the first chakra, or root chakra); our relationships (the second chakra, or sacral chakra); our sense of self (the third chakra, or solar plexus chakra); our hearts (the fourth chakra, or heart chakra); our levels of communication (the fifth chakra, or throat chakra); our intuition (the sixth chakra, or third eye chakra), and our spirituality (the seventh chakra, or crown chakra).

I think the first step in facing grief is to simply understand that something major has happened. Loss can be like the size of our souls. It’s often so big that it’s impossible to grasp.

We went to a hot yoga class the other night. In our grief, we were seeking the heat. In this healing room, the instructor opened the class with a few words on energy and pain. She spoke about the Hindu gods and their energies. One of them was Shiva, the god with the energy of destruction. Another one was Brahma, the god with the energy of creation.

The instructor explained why Shiva is considered the first guru.

“Why would a god of destruction be ahead of the god of creation?” she asked.

We were poised to practice, so no one had the answer.

“Because there is more to learn from destruction than from creation,” she said.

I don’t think she knew that she was speaking to the confusion of our grief. It’s confusing to have to learn from pain and suffering. But that’s the thing about grief. It’s never our choice. We would never choose what happened as the price for whatever it is we are supposed to learn.

In our grief, our energy shifts daily. These shifts are incremental, and they are taking place in the places unnoticed, in the nooks and crannies of our bodies and our minds and our spirits. Every day is a practice, and all our questions are the poses.

And it’s these subtle shifts of energy that have to serve as our answers, because, as with the practice, there just are no final answers.

I guess in this way everything really is all about the energy. I am the energy inside of me. I am the part of my soul that fills my body. Our souls fill us all to capacity.

And this brings me to the biggest question yet, one so big that the answer requires every ounce of faith.

The question is: If someone is no longer here, does it really mean that he has left?

To answer this we must speak to a belief that is the only solace in our grief. For we think his energy simply made a monumental shift, one that’s sent him to the place where all his soul can fit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Protect Your Heart

Baby if you hold me, then all of this will go away.” ~ Budapest, George Ezra
I looked at my social media the other day and scrolled through more slogans than I could count. My feeds were overflowing with advice on everything from how to be happy to how to find love to how to be loved.
I even walked through Brooklyn on my visit last week and stepped on some sidewalk art that told me to protect my heart.
It seems in every direction, people are looking for the right direction.
Some of us are lucky enough to give up the search. I think Jeff was one of these lucky ones. I think by the time he met Alexandra, this young man had already grown into himself, and I think in her he found what he was searching for.
After their first date, Alexandra called me with her report. It was to the point, and it was short.
"Mom, he is just so alive,” she said.
And she proceeded to fall in love with the life force that was Jeff, and I continued to receive from Alexandra her reports. I heard how happy and energetic he always was. I heard how handsome he was. I heard how he cared for her.
And I heard how he loved her. This report came by text.
“We were running on the West Side Highway,” she said. “And he said, ‘I’m happy I have you’. And I said, ‘I’m happy I have you, too.’ And then he said, ‘I love you.’ And I said, ‘I love you, too!’”
And in revealing his heart to her like this, Jeff made it okay for Alexandra to reveal her own heart, too. It was a first for Alexandra to let anyone that close. This young man that was Jeff earned a tremendous amount of trust from Alexandra, and he did it by being consistent, dependable and honest. But, really, I don’t think he could have been anything else, because I think this was actually his true nature. He made it safe for Alexandra to let herself be known and to see that she was still loved, and this was his most precious gift to her.
Jeff’s devotion and enormous love fostered in my daughter a peace and contentment for which only a mother could pray. I can’t really explain what I saw in my daughter during her years with him except to say that he enabled her to grow into herself, too. The brightness in Jeff illuminated Alexandra, and I watched her become her best self by his side.
Most people think that Alexandra and Jeff met on a dating App, but she and her brother and I know different. I’ve often asked her whether this young man whom she found so alive was aware that she ordered him at the time she was five. There’s no question that G-d sent this man with the curly hair and big heart, a man she would call Jeff Paul Bart.
Alexandra and Jeff not only found each other, but they also found Brooklyn. And there they set up a home. For whatever reason, their apartment building always reminded me of the television show, I Dream of Jeannie. I think it was the building’s decor, but now I think it was so much more. To me, their apartment was a genie’s bottle, cozy and with lots of magic inside, a home the two of them created with pride.
And together they lived on hope and faith and trust, with plans for a future that weren’t supposed to combust.
And now my heart breaks at my daughter’s new report. “He was so happy, Mom," she said. “He’d be so upset if he knew what happened. He wouldn’t like this at all. He had so much he wanted to do. He wanted a family. He wanted children. He wanted me. We were not supposed to grow old separately.”
I am very grateful that Jeff was so expressive. He was able to tell Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to tell us all how he felt about us. He professed his love openly. There are no words left unsaid because he was able to say them all, and so those of us around him were able to say them, too. This was the generous gift that was Jeff.
And I’m also very grateful that Jeff was so demonstrative. He was able to show Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to show us all how he felt about us. He was uninhibited in his affection, and that made it easy for us to give that back to him. This was the other generous gift that was Jeff.
And how can I discuss Jeff without mentioning how much he meant to my son, Benjamin? I watched them form a quick and easy bond that wasn’t supposed to end. And now in losing Jeff, my son has lost his brother.
I stayed at Alexandra and Jeff’s happy home just this past weekend. Before leaving, he made us breakfast and then served himself. I watched as he carefully spread avocado on his rice cake. Then he added just cut pieces of lox on top and then sprinkled some of the chives he’d just chopped. And as I watched him add the eggs, I couldn’t help but think how incredible it was that Alexandra had found this young man, a man who only wanted to be there with her and build their life in the same careful way he was building his breakfast.
Then I looked at him again and saw he had a slogan on his shirt, and maybe the words explained my joy. There across his chest was the sentence, “Everyone loves a Jewish boy”.
After breakfast it was time for Alexandra and me to leave. Jeff would leave later in the day. I watched him wrap his arms around her, and I watched her step into his safe embrace. They kissed. She held him. He patted the back of her head and said, “Goodbye, Sweetie.”
It was a few days later when I returned because he did not. I was back in Brooklyn and walking with my son. And I pointed out the sidewalk art, the one with the slogan that read, “Protect Your Heart”.
But we just kept on walking and passed it by, because it only made me wonder why. For how in the world could any of us ever have protected our hearts when it came to loving Jeff? How could we have loved him in any other way but in the big way that he loved us all, and in the even bigger way that he loved Alexandra.
There is just no slogan that can protect our hearts from being broken.
There is only hope for the pain to cease. I know that Jeff would wish us peace.
In memory of Jeffrey Paul Bart, contributions may be made to Jewish Social Services Agency or The Make-A-Wish Foundation.