Teaching today – my first class of the week - I’m aware of an empty space in the room, and I hesitate, not knowing quite how to begin – whether to talk about Jenny, who died last week of stomach cancer – or to wait until the last exercise. In the end I wait. All through class I’m aware of her, remembering the way she always chose to lie on the same spot on the floor by the radiator, how she wore wonderful hand-knitted socks that slipped off her feet in the down dog position, how supple she was showing years of yoga training before she ever came to Pilates. I never thought of her as old, though she’d accumulated years - a life that seemed rich with people and travel and art. She was beautiful too - and like many women who’ve been beautiful all their lives, she was Queenly. She commanded attention. Now she has gone.
I taught Pilates to Jenny for a number of years, both in big classes, and after she broke her ankle last year, alone in my studio. Over the last month, as she grew weaker, as we all knew there was little time left, I became aware, perhaps more profoundly than ever before, of the particular intimacy in teaching
As a movement teacher I know my students so well, at the same time as knowing so little about their
lives. I know them purely through their body – observing how they look and how they move, and the changes that take place from week to week. It’s an intimacy that has clearly defined roles – I cajole, nudge, assist my class members to become stronger, more balanced, to enjoy moving and feel more at home in the body. At the same time, by interpreting and embodying my instructions, they teach me in ways that endlessly enrich my life.
Waking in the night I felt shocked by the closeness of death. What was happening to Jenny as the cancer overtook her body? How could she just disappear forever? The night can be strange and difficult, and thoughts irrational.
Arriving home after the last time I sat with Jenny, only days ago a beautiful restful hour I’d been reluctant to leave - I discovered the Morning Glory in the greenhouse had flowered at last. I’d waited all summer as it grew ever longer vines with not a bud in sight, and suddenly, on October 10th, there was this dazzling flower, its petals like sky blue silk, it’s centre radiant.
Jenny always loved the last exercise we do in class, a calf stretch that ends in a balance with arms reaching overhead. It’s the only exercise we ever do in unison, in a circle, the arms sweeping up as if gathering and scattering the energy. Today, as we finished class with this gesture, sensing Jenny’s absence and presence, the shared sadness, and appreciation of her was palpable.
She gave me much. I will miss her.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.