The Heart is the Context

Broken Hearts - Facebook Cover Tribute

Broken Hearts – Facebook Cover Tribute (Photo credit: Daniel M. Reck)

Since I have been on this journey of yoga teacher training with Sara Davidson Flanders, I have been adhering to her “ten minute a day” rule, spending at least ten minutes each day on my yoga mat. For two months, now I have only missed one day. When I’m not taking a public class, this happens best for me first thing in the morning. In these dark mornings as we approach the solstice, I light a candle, roll out the mat, and see where my practice takes me.

Uncharacteristically yesterday, I didn’t get to practice in the morning, so I “got to” practice in the evening, dedicating myself to remembrance of yesterday’s events at Sandy Hook Elementary. I thought about what I had posted yesterday, my offering based on my memory of teaching about rampage school shootings. I also reflected upon the tremendous outpouring on Facebook, far flung friends brought together in virtual vigil. I worried, as I always worry, because it is my nature. I thought that my comments might be seen as too “heady,” despite my brief acknowledgement of a broken heart in the beginning of the post, and of the things I weep for at the end. After time spent on my mat last night I thought I might say a few more words about the context for my post yesterday.

Yesterday was also uncharacteristic for me in that I spent much of the day away from social media, so I didn’t hear the news about Newtown until after lunchtime. But strangely, yesterday I posted to Facebook an old photo of my kids. I had been reflecting with a friend how my practice space has been a little impromptu, but that I had realized, given the placement of candles in that space, a photo of my children occupied a place of devotion. Subsequent to that conversation, a friend posted to Facebook a photo taken of her with a child of a friend in a backpack asleep with his head on her back. That beautiful, tender, perfect photo also reminded me of such moments spent with my own two children, especially as his features resembled theirs at his age. That gave me the impetus to post to Facebook that picture of my own two that graces the mantel at home.

My kids c. 1996

This was a photo I took at my son’s preschool in spring of 1996, so he is nearly the same age there as the children who were murdered yesterday. My daughter, now a budding artist, was proud of his one painting, and the shutter snapped at just the right tender, silly moment.

I heard the news about the shooting yesterday from the secretary of the sociology department where I teach. Immediately my mind recalled a similar time ten years prior to that photo. It was in the sociology department at Boston College that I first heard, from the department secretary, about the shuttle Challenger disaster. The professor who would chair my dissertation committee heard this news then, too, and would go on to write a best-selling book about it. Her analysis of “organizational disaster” would figure prominently into Katherine Newman’s analysis of the failure of school surveillance systems and the “dark side” of organizations.

But what I heard from the department secretary was a feeling of deep insecurity, for she too, is a parent and has a child who sustained a horrific compound fracture after a scooter accident. We get regular updates on the progress of her care through various casts of decreasing size. The main facts I got from that conversation were “school shooting” and “Connecticut.”

After that I ran first to Facebook, which is where, increasingly, my students tell me they get their news (social beats search). I froze to read in a post from my best friend, mention of Newtown, where he grew up, and where a mutual college friend of ours lives. I reached out to her on Facebook chat, on which she asked,

I just keep asking…Why are young white men doing this?  Why do they need to kill in such a grand and horrific way?

It was then I knew that I had to share what I knew, and the result is yesterday’s post. Even though it may come off heady, it originates in the deep passion for community that led me to study sociology in the first place.

Today, in the cold, pale light of morning, unlit by the warm candles of vigil, only poetry and music avail. In the last meeting of my class on the Sociology of War and Peace this semester, I shared Denise Levertov’s poem “Making Peace.”

A voice from the dark called out,
“The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.”

I think of two selections, one penned by Antje Duvekot and sung by Solas, and the other from Sara McLachlan. As I’m writing this, I also think of Greg Brown.

…We raise children and we write their names
On granite walls, we don’t like losing games


How much more can we bare
‘Til the way is paved?
For the revolution
There’ll be nothing left unchanged

Solas “The Poisonjester’s Mask

I always heard this lyric as “How much more can we bear?” so that is the plaint my heart sings this morning.

Hearts are worn in these dark ages
You’re not alone in this story’s pages
Night has fallen amongst the living and the dying
And I try to hold it in, yeah I try to hold it in

“The world’s on fire and
It’s more than I can handle
I dive into the water
(I try to bring my share)
I try to bring more
More than I can handle
(Bring it to the table)
Bring what I am able

Sarah McLachlan, “World on Fire

The first thing I told my friend was that although she was much closer to the situation, she wasn’t alone. “Bring what I am able” is the impetus for yesterday’s post.

the murderer who lived next door seemed like such a normal guy–
if you try to follow what they shove at us you run out of tears to cry
i heard a man speak quietly i listened for a while
he spoke from his heart to my woe & then he bowed & smiled
what is real but compassion as we move from birth to death
i am looking for rexroth’s daughter & I’m running out of breath

spring will come back i know it will & it will do its best
so useful so endangered like a lion or a breast
i think about my children when i look at any child’s face
& pray that we will find a way to get with all this amazing grace
it’s so cold out there tonight so stormy i can hardly see
& i’m looking for rexroth’s daughter & i guess i always will be

Greg Brown, “Rexroth’s Daughter

I do think about my children when I look at any child’s face, and I do pray that we will find a way to appreciate the amazing grace of the world around us. I think too, of my fellow teachers, who do appreciate the amazing grace of a child’s presence, who shielded them with her body, who huddled them quietly in a dark closet and told them she loved them. What is real but compassion, but devotion to them and each other, as we huddle together in such darkness?

About Richard Hudak

I am Senior Adjunct Faculty in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and I have been a practitioner of Anusara™ yoga. I have completed 200 hours of teacher training within its diaspora community, consistent with its philosophy and alignment principles.
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