Tag Archives: Raquel

A painting of sunset

One year for Christmas (or maybe my birthday, December 2001 regardless) my eleven-year-old sister gave me a painting.  It was a sunset, she told me, from when she had gone whale-watching.

The colors were identifiable to me as yellow, blue, white.  The shapes made themselves legible, clouds, waves, rays of light.  But no matter how long I stared at it, the painting didn’t look like a sunset to me.  It completely defied my expectations and confused me.  I treasured it.

Sometimes I would get angry at it, and even annoyed with my sister, why couldn’t she have just painted a sunset instead of painting me this incomprehensible scene, then mocking me by labeling it “sunset”?  Taunting me with some unknowable vision, neatly enclosing the limits of my understanding in an innocent wooden frame.

In the twelve years since she gave it to me I have lived in twelve different homes.  With the exception of two of places (couldn’t risk stuffing it into an already overstuffed suitcase) the painting has come with me and is usually the first thing to go up on a wall.  I absolutely love this painting, despite the jumbled emotions it inspires.

It only recently dawned on me (pun unintentional, but pretty perfect nonetheless) that what I have been staring at — with love and self-pity and admiration and doubt — is not, in fact, a sunset.  Not any sunset that I have seen or will ever see.  No, for nearly a dozen years I have had the incredible privilege of looking out at Raquel‘s sunset.

My little sister opened her eyes one evening and this is what she saw.  And then she gave that sight to me.

I’ve seen sunsets; the cones and rods of my retinae have absorbed evening light and bounced the information to my brain where my inner monologue said “sunset”.  Say the word to me again and I get an image, my own concept, of sunset.  All very useful, but my own labels have prevented me from appreciating that “sunset” to someone else looks different.

I think we all  have a lot of expectations, for how a day will go, for how another person will act, for how we’ll feel about this that or the other.   I wonder how much my expectations have caused me to miss.   On my wall hangs a painting of sunset, that still looks nothing like sunset to me, that fills me with joy and wonder for the immense plurality of human experience.  I am so grateful for it.

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She loves me

She was torn, she told me, because her love for me was rivaled only by her unadulterated hatred of yoga.

I had invited my sister to come to my “final exam”, the full length class I taught at the end of my yoga teacher training program.  The night before the class, she and my husband came to my graduation ceremony.  They were both quite gracious, keeping the incredulous smirking to a bare minimum through an evening of clapping, chanting, singing, and dancing.

Raquel eats meat, but she ate quite happily from the vegetarian buffet.  She was only put off by the fact that half of the cupcakes were left unfrosted (as was I, to be frank, we are a highly dessert-focused family).  Only a hint of a giggle passed over her face when I explained the mala and the little crystal my teachers had given me.  What a trooper!

But attend a yoga class?  She loves me, to be sure, but she had already gone down that dark road…

We started yoga at the same time.  Years ago, my mom put mats and class cards under the Christmas palm tree (we were in Miami) and the three of us trotted off to our first class.  We became regulars to an evening class, and, since we had just moved to Miami from Brazil, we found our lithe little Brazilian teacher totally enchanting.

Well, Mom and I did.  Quel got progressively more worked up by the whole operation, finally confessing that even the thought of yoga actually made her feel stressed.  She was a high strung kid to begin with, but yoga really put her over the edge.

I’m a fan of yoga and persistently try to share it with my family and friends, but it doesn’t bother me that my sister doesn’t like what I like.  She prefers to run actually, an activity that I find immensely unpleasant.   Happily, we are neither of us so defined by our likes and dislikes that our preferences alienate us.  That sounds obvious, but it isn’t.  There are plenty of people in the world who have so strongly tied themselves to a list of activities or interests that they forget how to relate to people with different lists.

Yoga, as it happens, is not about whether or not you will stretch on a mat for 90 minutes.  It’s about looking outside of yourself, about finding something that transcends your self-conscious perceptions and connects you to something bigger, more universal.  However much I love yoga, I hope to never mistake my own interests for the “right” way.  I hope to never assume that I have found “the” answer when all I have found is my own answer.

So my nearest and dearest and I don’t have to share all of our interests.  No interest or hobby or doctrine that demands the hearts and souls of everyone you know is really worth it anyway.

I don’t really care how she feels about yoga as long as my sister loves me.