The Classroom of Life

By Mary Boutieller

Each person makes an important imprint in this life that affects everyone else.

If you read my article last month, “thank you” for your willingness to come along with me on this journey as I’ve navigated the illness and passing of my dear stepfather, Tom. Writing allows me to think about and process the lessons learned from these experiences. And much like the passing of one season to the next, these events in our lives give us a deeper reservoir from which to draw.

As I continue to “lean in,” a few more lessons have come to me. I hope you don’t mind me sharing some of them with you.

It has become clear to me as I go in and out of the house in which my Mom and Tom lived, that it is the occupants who make a house a real home. Those warm memories, emotional ties, feelings of love, broccoli and spaghetti dinners, the mundane and the special—they are with me because my Mom and Tom were there to create them. Shared experiences, the ups and downs of life lived each and every day—those are what we relate to and find ourselves reliving years later. It never was and never will be about the stuff in our homes or the things we own. It will always be about the people we love and the time we share together here on this lovely planet.

I’m reminded, yet again, that those who are your friends come unbidden in your time of need. Those who called, wrote emails, sent cards, attended the funeral or stopped by for a quick hug meant the world to me. Not because I am not strong or couldn’t have “handled it,” but because they cared and showed love in their own special way. It’s not easy knowing what to say or do when someone we care about suffers a loss. As a society, we don’t talk about death; we rarely know how to deal with it ourselves, much less be there for another’s suffering. I learned a long time ago while working on an ambulance that sometimes just holding someone’s hand is enough; sometimes it’s all you really can do. Instead of feeling awkward or worrying that we might do or say the wrong thing, maybe we simply come forth with an earnest heart, and often that is enough.

I’ve learned to appreciate dirty laundry! Yes, I know that is a stretch, but please let me explain. Normally, I’m less than amused at the mounting laundry that two people (my husband and I) can accumulate. Yet, after my stepdad passed away, I looked at the overflowing laundry basket and thought, “I am alive and here is proof! This dirty laundry is evidence that I am not sitting on the couch watching my life pass by me!” Somehow, in that moment, it made me pause and reflect on the gift of this life and in my ability (and willingness) to be a part of it. Maybe my view of the laundry will change with time, but right now I feel like I will never again look at it in quite the same way. Although it will still need to be done, it is also a strangely comforting confirmation that I am living my life and getting my hands (and my clothes) dirty in the process.

I’ve learned that each person makes an imprint in this life that affects everyone else. No person, no job, no status in life, is unimportant. I am especially grateful to the people who were kind to Tom—above and beyond the “politeness” required by society. I mentioned a few in my last newsletter, but here are a few more: the waitress at Peaches who always teased him and made him smile; the doctor who reviewed his medical records and didn’t send a bill; the neighbor who mowed his grass when he became unable to do so; and another neighbor who brought him Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. These people saw beyond his rough exterior to the heart of him, and they made it part of their mission to include him, even if just for a few minutes. These simple acts of kindness, given to and received by a proud “never ask for help” kind of guy, were worth more than money, because they showed love in all its beautiful forms.

Finally, as with most things that shake us into an odd alternate universe, in the weeks after Tom’s death, the sky seemed a brighter blue; I noticed things that I generally walk past without much thought; my whole body slowed down, quieted down, and I found within myself a slightly bigger opening in the door to understanding what life (and death) are all about.

These lessons, these glimpses, usually fade away as we go on about our usual lives. But each time I fill the reservoir with reminders and gems, it allows me to tap back in. Each experience teaches us, if we are paying attention.

Tom said, shortly before his passing, that he had no enemies and no regrets. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all in the classroom of life. To release our grievances; to do better the next time; to hold no regrets—this we can do!

Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at:

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