I recently spent the weekend on a yoga retreat in Maine with Caroline Wybar. She relocated from Delray to Stonington and, though I did not know her well when she lived in Florida, I recognized her as a senior teacher despite her young age. Some people just have old souls, ya know? Caroline’s strength and resilience and willingness to share her wisdom while remaining humble and eager to learn inspires me. Stonington is a sleepy little lobster fishing town off the coast of Maine that is capital S small town but so charming and so unapologetically New England that its easy to see why she chose it.
On Sunday morning our group got up early and set out on foot toward the community center for our yoga practice. Caroline suggested there was a possibility the “Church of the Morning After”, which meets in a local tackle shop, might be in session. She was afraid they might only convene every second Sunday and, as she had seen them the Sunday before, wasn’t hopeful. But, as luck would have it, they were.
And it was glorious.
A room chock full of decades of paraphernalia. There were nets and traps; paint cans and paint splatter. Buoys, ropes, tools, nuts and bolts and Maxwell House Coffee cans over brimming with gear. There were water bottles and soda cans and old takeout containers along with yellowed newspaper clippings tacked to the walls. Posters and pictures and private jokes galore and amongst it all, there were musicians.
The coolest woman you’d ever want to see belting out “Route 66” while playing the drums (who coincidentally is the Iyengar certified yoga teacher from a neighboring town!!) surrounded by people playing guitars and banjos and harmonicas and even a mandolin. It felt as if we had walked on to a movie set and these people were straight out of central casting. Our plans for a morning yoga practice swiftly changed to hunkering down and communing with the locals at the Church of the Morning After.
I mention the name more than once because it has significance to the story. You see, Caroline, our (as it turns out, literally) fearless leader is a recovering alcoholic. The people in this room don’t know Caroline but some probably share a similar story. As each musician took their turn choosing the song they’d sing, and passing around the microphone, the group leader, Steve, would make jokes and jabs. Despite the razzing there was an unspoken respect and acceptance that felt like a big bear hug. No matter the talent level all were welcomed and encouraged to participate.
We stayed so long that eventually Caroline snuck out to return home to go to the bathroom. When she returned she had the words to a song that held special meaning for her and her recovery, in her pocket. She wanted to sing but was intimidated to step in. She vowed she would do it “next week’. I don’t know if the woman in the band overheard or she could just feel Caroline’s energy but damned if she didn’t turn to Caroline and ask her if she wanted to sing? She asked if there was a song that was just bursting from her heart that needed to be sung to the heavens? I could feel Caroline’s nerves and her impulse to say no (or was that mine?). Yet something in her knew if she didn’t do it then, she might never, so she got up and sang, legs shaking and voice quivering but growing stronger with each breath. The moment brought me to tears.
I’ve thought about why and decided it comes down to bearing witness to someone truly opening their heart: to a place and a way of being in the world and just a deep yes to life’s simple pleasures. It turns out that I admire Caroline for her vulnerability even more than her strength. My wish for all of us is that we learn the difference between fear that helps by keeping us safe from pain and fear that hurts by holding us back from joy. When we shine we give others permission to do the same. I deep-down-know I will remember this moment for the rest of my life and especially when the impulse to postpone joy out of ungrounded fear rears its ugly head. So…go ahead. Take a risk. Do something that makes your voice quiver and your legs a little shaky. I’m willing to bet you won’t be sorry you did!