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Unsteady on the Mat

There’s something in yoga called chitta vritti. Simply put, it’s mind chatter. Some call it monkey mind. As a monkey jumps from tree to tree, with chitta vritti, your thoughts move from place to place. It makes it hard to balance and stay centered in your practice. Tonight, my mind was in full-on monkey mode.

This afternoon I found out that another young mother in my town died. She left behind kids. One of the kids is a little girl who is the same age as Big Girl. I see her once a week during an activity. I cried when I got the email about her passing. I cried for her and for her daughter. This is the third relatively young person who has died from cancer over the past few months. A few others — one right down the block from me — have been recently diagnosed. I honestly think there’s something wrong down here in my little neighborhood by the water. Yes, it’s quiet, friendly and serene, but is it also harboring something sinister, too?

I have checked out my local newspaper’s interactive map that shows the incidence of breast cancer (that’s what we’re dealing with a lot down here) on Long Island. Then I clicked through to the New York State website. My town, it says, has an incidence that’s 19 to 49 percent higher than the average. The numbers, according to the accompanying text, “represent people who developed the specific type of cancer while living in that ZIP code between 2005 and 2009.” It’s 2014. I wonder what that map would look like if you factored in all the people who have been diagnosed and died over the past five years?

I thought about that when I got onto the mat tonight. My practice suffered. I fell out of tree. I couldn’t get up into Warrior 3. Even my beloved pigeon posture felt like agony. My mind racing, my heart broken for the little girl who faces growing up without a mom. I stayed with it because that’s what you do in yoga. You stay on the mat and try and quiet the chitta vritti. Ten minutes before the end of the class I realized that sometimes there’s no quieting the mind. Sometimes, you just need to face your fears.

My biggest fear is that I am putting my daughters at risk by living in our town. What happens if they are being exposed to something toxic? Something that will affect them as adults. Something that will rob their own children — my grandchildren — of their mothers? I tell my husband about my fears. He calls me crazy. I send him angry, rambling instant messages and texts teeming with curse words that reflect my fear and anger over what’s going on down here. He tells me that we are of the age where the people around us get cancer. And that we don’t know what other factors are in play. Did they smoke? Did they tan excessively? Did they work in a job where they came into contact with carcinogens? Were they just doomed by their genes?

I yell at him more at that point. (Meaning I turn my caps lock on and punctuate every sentence with a cuss.) My brother had bone cancer at 29. My grandmother died of pancreatic cancer. His own mother had uterine cancer. His grandma had colon cancer. He tells me stuff happens. Get over it. I’m crazy, he says. I’m making too much of it. And then he tells me how wonderful our neighborhood is. He expounds on our neighbors and friends. He talks about our beautiful beach club and the marina where we keep our boat. He goes on about our great schools and pretty homes. And at that point I usually get so frustrated that I call him names, close out the chat and start crying. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing this on a daily basis, but every time someone else dies or there’s another diagnosis we have this same conversation.

If it was up to me we would move. Far away. Even though I love my friends and neighbors. Even though I love the lifestyle. I’m not sure where, but somewhere that has a cancer incidence that is “within 15 percent of expected” or — even better — “15 to 50 percent below expected.” There are places like that even on Long Island. But marriages are a partnership and in this case, he wins. For now, at least.

I left the class tonight, walking out into the rain. I texted two friends, asking if they wanted to chip in for flowers. The wake is Friday and I want to order them tomorrow. Tonight, the chitta vritti won, just like the cancer won the battle that young mother fought so valiantly. I hope that’s the last time I’ll be ordering flowers for a wake for a long time. But I’m not hopeful.

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