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Yogi Rolf Gates (Essay & Film)

Yogi Rolf Gates (Essay & Film)

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Published by Tom Matlack
(DOWNLOAD PDF TO WATCH FILM) Rolf Gates was born an orphan. An African American he was adopted with his Asian sister into a white home. His sister was everything to him. Her death was one key turning point in his life as was, fifteen years later, the birth of his daughter.
(DOWNLOAD PDF TO WATCH FILM) Rolf Gates was born an orphan. An African American he was adopted with his Asian sister into a white home. His sister was everything to him. Her death was one key turning point in his life as was, fifteen years later, the birth of his daughter.

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Published by: Tom Matlack on Apr 20, 2010
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01/02/2013

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A
DeathanD
A
Birth
by
 
Rolf Gates 
 
was staying with my sister Wendy and her new husband one night when they got into aterrible argument. “I don’t know what to do,” I heard Wendy say. “I don’t know what to do.”Wendy’s life had caught up to her.The next morning her husband woke me. He was frantic. He dragged me to their room, whereI found Wendy, dead. She was thirty-one years old. She had committed suicide, with the samedetermination and decisiveness that she had done everything else in her life. Moments later I was on the steps of their porch, listening to the sirens of the ambulance that was arrivingtoo late. In rapid succession I was being questioned by police, then bringing the news to our parents, and then getting ready to go to a funeral.My parents adopted Wendy from an orphanage in ill with tuberculosis and complicationsfrom that ailment. My parents loved her immediately and nursed her back to health. My older brother came some time later, also from Korea, and I was adopted in 1966 after spending
the rst two years of my life in an orphanage in Albany, New York. My rst memory is of the
night I was adopted. My new family and I were in a hotel room, and I became tremendouslyill from the chocolate the nuns at the orphanage had given me as a gift. I woke up several
times in the middle of the night to throw up more violently than I ever have since. After one of 
these episodes I lay down in my bed and realized someone was sleeping next to me. It wasWendy.
As a young woman, Wendy was smart, very
funny, and almost always kind. She did not havethe physical courage of an athlete; she had the moral courage of a leader. It was her fate to
be a small Asian girl in a small white world. She was required to move through childhood and
adolescence as a subhuman. To her family she was everything; to the rest of the world shewas nothing. She bore this burden with unimpeachable courage and integrity.My love for Wendy was a blend of reverence, hero worship, and delight. She knew all of my
failings and loved me ercely nonetheless. I could screw up a thousand times and she would
be there the next day expecting me to do my best. There was never a moment when I did notwant to impress her.
At the funeral home, I stole a moment to be alone
by Wendy’s open casket. I did not knowwhat I wanted from her. I touched her hand, refusing to accept what it meant that her handwas cold. I knelt to tell her how much I loved her, but anger overtook me, and instead I toldher, “I will not die this way.”Wendy and I had lived in the addict’s world, a world without hope of redemption. In thatmoment I left that world and began my sober life. I had been getting sober for six months. Inthat moment, I began living sober.Living sober has meant remaining steadfast in the belief that our lives have a purpose, adestiny. It has meant being willing to continually learn and apply spiritual teachings to my dailyinteractions and circumstances. Living sober has meant never giving up.Twelve years after Wendy’s death I saw my daughter’s head, then her face, and then her 
"I will not die this way." 
 
hands, and nally and miraculously her whole body emerge from her mother’s womb and into
the world.Her name is Jasmine. She was born in May 2003. By then her daddy had become a successstory. I was a yoga teacher and businessman and devoted all my time to both. I had emergedfrom my sister’s death extremely focused. I was determined to stay sober and to use myremaining days in the service of the God of my understanding. Everything else was just ameans to that end.In the years before my daughter was born, people sometimes would say I had a big ego, thatI was intimidating, that I did not listen, or that I was arrogant. But I did not care. I was teachingyoga to a hundred people a day, and each week the teachers I supervised taught threethousand. This was part of my mission, and the mission was all that mattered.
A few days after Jasmine was born, my wife asked
if I could hold the baby while she took ashower. I was dumbfounded: Why should I be implicated if my wife decided to take a shower?
If I had a motto at that time it would have been the advice a father of ve once gave me: “If you
want to get anything done, leave early and leave alone”—emphasis on alone. The next fewmonths were very bad between my wife and me; everything was a problem. The next coupleof years were pretty bad; most things were a problem.
Yoga teaches us that our lives are in constant
transformation, the old ways dying to make wayfor new ones. The Buddha taught that our resistance, our clinging to the old ways of being,
causes us to suffer. In the rst months of my daughter’s life, in the rst months of my new life
as a father, I clung to my old life.I clung to the way I spent my time, to my freedom to choose how my day unfolded, to myalone time with my wife, walks with my dogs, nights of unbroken sleep. I clung to the person
who I thought I was. The Buddha said that to resist what is, burns like re. In the midst of mysuccess story I burned like re. My wife and I went to couples counseling and talked a lot
about my failings, but I continued to cling to my ideas of how I thought things should be.Jasmine was not fazed by any of this. She came into this world to have a great time, andshe set about that goal with a passion. She was talking and walking at eleven months andspent her days exploring and learning. Each night before bed, she and her mom would lookat pictures of all the people in her life and she would name them all. Then they would sing alullaby that listed all of the people who loved her. In a card she made for Jasmine at the endof kindergarten, her teacher wrote, “I will never forget the joy and enthusiasm you bring toeverything in your life.”When we expose darkness to the light it becomes light. I had a choice: the darkness of holding on to the old ways or the light of the family my wife and Jasmine were offering me. Myold ideas continued to make sense to me, until a friend told me about a nine-day retreat hehad just completed at a meditation center in Massachusetts. He spoke enthusiastically about
the experience, and a couple of months later I went on my rst meditation retreat. That was a
few years ago, and since then I have been like a snake shedding its skin.
"If you want to get anything done,leave early and leave alone." 

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Beautifully written, stunning and soulful. I love how you describe following your wife and daughter in being joyful.
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