Two amazing people with beautiful hearts left the world during the past two weeks.
I learned about the passing of Laralyn Yee the day before I watched the service for Congressman John Lewis.
Both of these people had beautiful hearts and they both lost brave struggles with cancer.
President Obama presented John Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
A lot has been written about John Lewis, so I will not focus on him very much, except to mention how people remember him as always being kind.
And Lewis fought all his life for the rights of others. He put himself in harm's way on that bridge to Selma, knowing he was going to be hurt by the racist officers waiting for the marchers.
Later in life, he put his beliefs into action, and he put his heart into the task of helping others through legislation.
Lara Yee joined my website a few years ago and sent me a couple of emails on different topics. I did not realize she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her messages were always kind. She lived in California and had studied with some good teachers. She asked questions about the internal arts and I tried to answer them. She seemed genuinely pleased that I took the time to reply to her questions.
Then, last year, she contacted me to let me know that she only had five more months to live.
Laralyn Yee being instructed by Tony Wong.
Before she died, she wanted to express to me her gratitude for my teaching. Her email was so wonderful that it filled my heart. The first paragraph of her message said:
"I've admired you so much, ever since I came across your online school a while back. Following a second cancer diagnosis in 2017, I became fascinated by and driven to study Chen style taijiquan, and was astonished by the depth and breadth of material available on your membership site! Your video lessons are incredible resources. Additionally, I was inspired from the beginning to model my practice on your example of overcoming tremendous health challenges in pursuit of kung fu excellence."
Then she told me she was dying, but was determined to continue studying as much as she could.
We exchanged several emails, discussing life, death, and our approach to our health challenges. I assured her there was absolutely nothing to fear about death.
But it struck me as the act of a beautiful heart for her to reach out to compliment me at a time when she was facing such a profound diagnosis.
With each message, her kindness and gentle spirit was evident. I discovered that I knew a couple of people who knew Lara, and they confirmed that she was, indeed, a compassionate and wonderful person.
After receiving her email, the kindness of her intent was in my own heart for days, and when I heard this week of her death, it sat heavy within me, and before I realized it, tears were in my eyes and rolling down my face.
An example of the joy Lara brought to her taiji practice.
Someone I had never met in person had touched me, and I felt their loss deeply. One of the other students in one of her California classes said that Lara was truly a good person, and brought a joy and insatiable curiosity to taiji class.
One of Lara's taiji "sisters," Angela Ng-Quinn, says that Lara asked her to come up with a Chinese name for her. Angela chose a name that means "an intelligent and beautiful lotus."
Isn't that nice?
The day after learning of her death, I watched some of the service for John Lewis. I listened as former president Barack Obama said that Lewis reminded us that, "In every one of us, there is the potential for courage."
We lost two courageous and kind people during the past two weeks. As I contemplated this loss, it made me realize that I still have work to do on myself.
How will I be remembered? Will people mourn a little and then move on with their lives, or will my loss leave a void that is difficult to fill in their own hearts?
Everything we do each day, and every encounter we have with other people, builds this legacy.
Isn't this what the internal arts should help us do? Isn't a connection to all things one of our goals?
It should be. We all fall short of our goals, but it's the attempt that counts.
John and Lara have found perfect peace now, and they have left behind feelings of warmth and kindness. John also leaves behind a legacy of someone who would put his life on the line for justice.
Is this the "meaning" of life? Did John and Lara live successful lives, even though one was famous and one was not?
I think they both definitely lived successful lives.
I would write that we should all be so lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. It is the way we treat others that builds that legacy. It is the actions we take on behalf of others, and the acts of reaching out to let others know they are valued.
In 2020, with so much negativity in the world, with our own friends fighting each other with words on social media over politics and race as we all try to survive a pandemic, there has never been a better time to learn from people like John and Lara.
Their courageous and kind lights have been extinguished, but we can be better people and carry the light forward. We can live successful lives, too.
If only we will.
-- by Ken Gullette