You can owe me into the next life

I have been thinking a lot about my tai chi teacher, Maggie Newman, these days. She and I have aged decades since my first class with her in 1997, and yet how permanent and fluid her influence remains. I can’t recall which year it was that Maggie stopped teaching, but she was already into her nineties and active, though her mind was lessening bit by bit.

It is hard to lose a teacher as generous and profound as Maggie. She raised her rates by one dollar during the twenty-some years that I studied the form with her: her rate going from ten dollars per class to eleven.

So, of course, Maggie in her later years, throughout her life, really, never had much money but you would never have guessed that. She seemed to be sustained by something else, something rarely encountered. Call it some kind of spiritual/physical grace, though those words don’t do it justice. She lived beyond the regular kinds of sustenance, not that she didn’t get a kick out of things, even kooky Christmas gadgets from Chinatown.

Maggie Newman, flanked by John Couturier and me at my poetry group’s book party, 2008

When I was laid off from my job at Scholastic, and I told her I wasn’t worried, she replied, “I am.”

Shortly after, I ran into her in my neighborhood. She had bought a pair of New Balance sneakers. As we rode the Second Avenue bus downtown together, she said, “You know you can owe me into the next life,” her way of saying, if I couldn’t afford that eleven dollars per class, that would be okay with her.

Her natural generosity required no acknowledgement; it was just a matter-of-fact kindness freely given. That’s the kind of person Maggie is and was.

“Remember me for loving you,” she sang to us in the early morning hours at tai chi camp at Keuka College in the Finger Lakes.

“Remember me for loving you.”

Maggie, I do.