We have never started the drive on a Friday, but we’ve done the drive so many times. We’ve done the drive in Honda Pilots. Honda Odysseys. And a few other cars along the way. With car seats in the back and luggage racks on top. And, now, those that used to be in the car seats sit up front. In the driver’s seat. Sharing the miles. For 15 of our 16 years, we’ve come here for a week. The third week of July. From Sunday to Sunday. Sharing laughter. Sharing joy. Sharing meals. Sharing sand. Sharing ice cream and mini-golf. Sharing… well, life. And love. As a family. This year our house rental shifted from Saturday to Saturday. And, this morning, on my mat at Glow Yoga, something else shifted. More on that in a moment. For now, a little more about the beach.
These journeys to the beach started back in the summer of 2003. Heading east from Austin. Along Route 10. Through East Texas. Louisiana. Mississippi. Over the Atchafalaya bridge before Baton Rouge. To connect with Maureen’s family. To go to the beach. In Ft. Morgan. Ft. Morgan is just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and our beach house is just 4 miles from the end of what is the Florida panhandle. Where the sand runs out from what starts all the way down near Key West. It is called by some the “red-neck Riviera.” It is full of white sands and blue waters and depending on the weather in the Gulf of Mexico, there are waves. Sometimes really good ones. And for a couple of years, there were things in the Gulf of Mexico that caused us to not make the trip. One year there was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and another year was disrupted by a Hurricane that blew over this little slice of tranquility. The first year we came to the beach was motivated by love. Celebrating the love of Maureen’s mom and dad, Henry and Ann, who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in 2003, and they wanted to celebrate with family. They also wanted to revive an old tradition from their days in New Jersey. Time at the beach. At the Jersey Shore.
The first year that we traveled here as a family, the Thompson clan was only 4. Me, Maureen, Taylor, and Kyla. Taylor was 4. Kyla was 2. Katelyn wasn’t here yet. And, Maureen didn’t have cancer. It was later that year, in the fall, actually, at the first ultrasound where we heard Katelyn’s heartbreat that our OBGYN discovered a lump in Maureen’s right breast, and everything changed. We were “lucky” that everything turned out the way it did, so that we could return to the beach again in 2004. This time with Katelyn, who was born on April 7, 2004. And, as “luck” would have it, the course of Maureen’s radiation for her breast cancer ended about a week before our special week in July. We were able to head east yet again. For ten years, we headed east as five, however, in the summer of 2015, we headed east as four yet again. Taylor, Kyla, Katelyn, and me. Maureen was now a co-pilot of another kind. Our angel. As I have written elsewhere in our blog, The Love of My Life, Maureen passed on the morning of October 21, 2014, after an on-and-off 11 year struggle with breast cancer.
Today, July 21, 2019, one week after what would have been Maureen and my 29th wedding anniversary, we are at the beach again. As I write, I look over the waves. I look over family. I look over love. The 21st is always a special day. We choose to make it that way. I tell the story of the powdered donut at Team Powdered Donut. For the first year, after Maureen’s passing, once a month, on the 21st, I took powdered donuts to special places. To her architecture office. To Texas Oncology. To Weed-Corley-Fish, the funeral home. To Seton Hospital. To the seventh floor where we last held hands. To the valet parking attendants at Seton that had greeted us so many times. To special places. To special people. Today we will have powdered donuts at the beach.
However, on this 57th #powdereddonutday since Maureen’s passing, something shifted. And, it shifted on my mat at Glow Yoga this morning. I had found this wonderful little studio 16 miles or so from the house in Gulf Shores, and its “skybox” last year. I did yoga all six of the mornings I was here. Glow was born of Jennifer and Dan Guthrie, and as I discovered reading their blog just now, they just gave birth in May to Grace. I love that name, and I love the blog post Jennifer made a little over a year ago on June 27 about the myths around yoga and Christianity. Myth # 3. I can’t be a Christian and practice yoga. She also shared this bible verse. John 4:18. “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casteth out fear.”
As we started the practice this morning at 9:30am, I felt the energy of my fellow yogis all around me. I felt what nourished me so deeply last year. I felt the sweat. I felt the twists. I felt the poses. And, then, I heard Jennifer’s words, and I realized what had moved me so deeply about this practice last year. The studio is in the midst of its 500 hour advanced teacher training, and she was reflecting on the second of our three fires. Our mental and emotional fire. The fires that stoke our ever racing minds. The fires that stoke fear. And, then she reflected on the importance of breath. The importance of releasing it, so that we can receive the next breath. “We must release to receive.” And, she reflected on how our breath can still us. Can calm us. Our ability to breathe, she said, as we stretched and moved on the mat, “is both unconscious and conscious.” Throughout each and every day, without thinking, we breathe. However, when we come to our mat as yogis, we can make breathing conscious. We link it to our poses.
As I thought about the depth of these insights, I wanted to cry. Not just sweat. Because 57 months ago, I awoke in the early hours of the day next to the bed in which my beautiful bride of almost 25 years slept. However, that which had been unconscious for over 50 years of her life had become very conscious in the last weekend before her passing. She was receiving oxygen via a blow-by tube. Breathing had become conscious. Very conscious. And hard. Her breast cancer had spread into the lining of her lungs in the last several months, causing fluid in her lung linings. And, on that Tuesday morning, the love of my life, my beloved Maureen, breathed her last. And, when she released, we received. We received a powerful new understanding of love. And, on my mat, this morning, at Glow Yoga, just down the street a bit from the beach where we share love as a family once a year, I received a powerful gift. A new understanding. An understanding of just how important breath. And love both are. And how Maureen had tapped her love of us, her family, to stare down her fear each and every day of her cancer. And, her fear as she took her last breath.