To Close or Remain Vulnerable… That is the Question

by Jeff Martens

My father, “Jimbo”, is one of the vulnerable ones. Cancer survivor, heart attack survivor, on dialysis… And all of this in the last 6 months at 80+ years old. My mother too, who is at the end of her seventh decade and lives alone, still delivering food to the less fortunate, walking up apartment stairs once a week on knees and ankles swollen with arthritis. I think of them often. Living alone and turning on the news and seeing a world on fire. Going to the grocery stores and unable to buy staples or necessities because younger, quicker, people with much bigger appetites came before them. I feel what it must be like to be marginalized and forgotten and now at risk from a pandemic that comes from halfway across the world. They are the vulnerable ones.

People tell me that Jimbo is lucky to have such a good son when I take him to some of his appointments. I really don’t know though because how can I ever help or protect him in the face of such a world? I see the same world that is on fire that my parents must see and I see how woefully inept aI am at preventing one shred ounce of their pain… I also see friends and employees and people thanking me for teaching yoga classes and staying open during this time. And I see friends and employees and people that I don’t even know telling me that I should close for the good of everyone, for the good of society, for the good of the “vulnerable ones.”

The decisions to remain open or to close a yoga studio are both ripe with potential fear. The fear of being legally responsible for multiple lease payments without any way to cover expenses, much less personal income. The fear of losing a business that has been in place since 2002. The fear of shutting down yet another haven and respite for people in this tragic maelstrom of anxiety and stress and fear-filled prognosis.
All this plows into the fear of somehow causing others to get sick or hastening the virus or God forbid, for me to carry a danger to my mom and dad who I have come to admire and pray for every single day in a way that I was oblivious to only a short time ago. Or for me to get sick myself or bring this to my wife and family.

For those who might think it is easy for a business to just close, I wonder if there can be an even bigger picture. Yes, of course there is the bigger social picture of flattening the curve and reducing the spread and protecting those who are most vulnerable. And then there is the even bigger picture for me. What am I going to choose? Fear or Love? For me the bigger picture is that, no matter what I do, I do not want to act out of shame or fear. I want to make a decision because I can see and feel that it is right in my heart.

Right now if IVY closed I would be doing so out of fear. Fear of being shamed as being “socially irresponsible.” Fear of being dismissed as a place that does not care or is selfish. I know this fear. It is the fear about what others think of me. This is not to say that closing is a wrong decision. By all accounts it may actually be absolutely right! And yet as much as I try I cannot make a decision based upon that fear of what others will think.

Uncertainty is the path of freedom. Instead of reducing decisions like this down to a snide comment or sarcastic quip, in the end, all that any of us can do is take all of this glorious madness in one moment, one great breath at a time. These are the moments I have to remember why I got into teaching yoga, why I love teaching yoga, and how yoga saved my life. I had to overcome a lot of fear and uncertainty to be standing where I am right now. And I now need to honor all that and the most vulnerable parts of my past self that had the courage to step into this life by making a decision with open-hearted love.

I ask my father what he thinks. I ask him as one of the vulnerable ones. I ask him as someone who was supposed to die three months ago, as the one I waited up all night in an ICU as he got a good sleep so that I could tell him in the morning before the doctors would that he was probably going to die. I ask him as the one who took chair yoga classes at our studio where he laughed and moved his body even though his ears could not make out the words. I ask him as the man who, for the first 10 years of my chosen “profession” kept calling what I was into “yogurt” and didn’t understand that he was incorrect. I ask him, “Dad, what do you think I should do?” And he looks at me with eyes that are glazed with six months of medical trauma still glowing with the secret joke that he is still alive. I ask him and he says, “I’m proud of you. I’m really proud that you are my son. You have to follow your conscience.” And I am thankful that my heart is still beating along with Jimbo’s, however long we have together.

I am proud of all of you who read this, if I may take that presumptuous liberty. I am proud that you are following your hearts, even if you disagree with whatever decisions are going on around you. For the only way that human beings will evolve is to act from a place of love and not fear. I pray for the wisdom to know what is right for more than just myself each and every minute. I see other studios closing around us. I watch knowing we too could close tomorrow or stay open as long as it is allowed. In the end staying open or not will be a decision that comes with heart. From my heart. from Jimbo’s heart. From yours. And one thing is certain: whether each of our hearts close or stay open a few minutes or decades longer, they must beat together. Because we are all the vulnerable ones. We are ALL in the curve that needs flattening. And all the fear in the world cannot make a wrong decision right.

Or a loving decision wrong.