I had gone to Costa Rica basically on a whim, an instinct to do a yoga training that I just knew I couldn’t pass up. The first night there I left my little open-air shack, walked up what seemed like 12 flights of stone stairs, passed gigantic palms, birds of paradise and a half dozen small blue and bright orange crabs that must have turned the wrong way and lost the beach. At the top of all this, I found myself sitting on the floor of a beautiful room, balancing myself on a small round bolster.
The resort owner was animatedly talking about the grounds, the history and the food. I listened as intently as I could, distracted by the howler monkeys and excitement until my ear caught a simple story – a previous guest had been speared by a stingray while running in the surf on the beach. Apparently the calm, shallow waters that make this beach so perfect for swimming also make it the perfect place for migrating stingrays. The only way to avoid an encounter – shuffle your feet. No bounding Baywatch beach moments in my future.
Unwilling to swim for fear of losing a foot, I go for an ATV ride with 2 friends instead. I am working on my trust issues and so decide to take the passenger role for the first part of the trip. 20 minutes later I find myself lying in the dirt, stunned. A man from across the street runs over and helps me up. He asks if I am OK.
I don’t know.
I have one of those moments that most people must have when they are still conscious right after an accident – I take an inventory: 2 legs, I am standing so, check!, feet, abdomen, hands, head, check! At first my body thinks everything is intact; I don’t feel any pain. I bend my arm and realize a piece of flesh is missing from my elbow. I actually think to myself, “How can that be? I am not even bleeding.” Yet before the words are finished formulating in my head, there it is – warm and red dripping down my arm.
The man that helped me up takes us across the street to his house. He pulls a first aid kit out of his truck and a hose out of his yard. He’s part of the volunteer EMT crew in town and just happened to be in his yard as our ATV flipped across the road. I get washed and bandaged up. My friend is speaking with him in Spanish – I catch the part where she tells him he must be an angel. “No,” he says, “I am Angelo.”
The next morning in class we begin at the front of our mat. My instructor, a beautiful, tall, Lebanese New Yorker comes up behind me to tell me to put my feet together. Before she can get my full name out, I’ve screamed and jumped 5 feet in the air. She holds her comment about my foot placement and instead hugs me around the shoulders. I begin to sob, and sun salute, and sob some more. So many stoic years of mourning for friends that have passed, for a young girl I didn’t even know come falling out. The tears mixing with my sweat as I curl into child’s pose, hugging my bloody and oozing elbow in close as everyone else goes down onto their forearms and up into a headstand. So much sadness pours out of me as the blood continues to seep out of my arm. I realize that this pose, which was to be one of my key goals for the month, one that symbolizes overcoming fears of death and uncertainty, has just become an impossibility.
2 weeks later I stand at the edge of the Pacific ocean, my arm amazingly but just barely healed. I watch the sun fall behind the clouds on the horizon. The waves are soft and gentle here. I am overcome by the sheer beauty of it all and suddenly feel such gratitude that things ended as they did and not as they could have.
For the first time since I arrived in Costa Rica, I have the desire to walk out towards the sunset, towards the waves. I look up to the sky and take one step and then another. I know that I am still moving but I’ve stopped counting my steps. Suddenly pulled out of my stupor, I remember those words from the first day – stingrays! I turn around and see the beach off in the distance, what feels like a half mile away. “A whole gaggle of stingrays could be hiding between me and that beach,” I think. No longer afraid of a mortal wound but still anxious to keep my feet without holes, I take a deep breath and slowly begin to shuffle my way back home.