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.

At Detmold Park with Oliver

Both of my parents are gone now, and I am in the midst of going through my parents’ possessions–what to keep, what to donate, what to give to friends. It is a sad and wistful task that makes me wonder about my need for books, paintings, sculptures, plants, and other physical objects to be around me–and about my difficulty with partings of all kinds.

So today I took a break from all that to spend time with my favorite uplifting canine, Oliver. We sat together at Detmold Park by the East River in midtown Manhattan–playing some catch, warming in the sun, and admiring the shirred, gleaming water.

A woman nearby was doing some form of meditation that was unfamiliar to me; it involved taking certain stances and holding them for prolonged periods of time. She didn’t smile or invite eye contact but her efforts inspired me to do a little tai chi, just the first third of the Yang short form 3 times. It’s always a mixed bag for me to do tai chi en plein air. I like the air but I don’t want to be seen. I guess it makes me feel ostentatious and/or self-conscious, but I carried on and ended up feeling better for doing it.

I am free from my former day job now, so there’s no excuse for me not to be writing and reading a lot! Now is the time.

Oliver herds me along with his beauty, his energy, and his enthusiasm.

JP & Oliver 10 20 15