A woman came in to shop our post-holiday sale (I work for lululemon), and was having trouble choosing between two pairs of pants that were discounted by about thirty percent. One, we both agreed, was a god-awful color; the other had a strap that inconveniently wrapped around the waist, which would have gotten in the way of her yoga practice. (Tied in the back, it would have interfered with doing crunches or boat pose. Tied in the front, it would have been annoying in Chaturanga.)
Towards the end of our conversation, I located a discounted pair for her in a color we both liked better at another store. As she was getting ready to leave, she looked at the pair with the wrap-waist one more time. “I just don’t think it’ll work,” she said. “I’m on such a budget, and this is a good price, but I can’t tie it in the back, because I have a tumor back there.”
She met my questioning eyes. “I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer,” she finally said, as if it was the most regular thing to say.
I don’t know if you know about metastatic breast cancer (I didn’t). It’s basically a death sentence, though some women survive. Metastatic means it’s spread beyond the breast into the lymph nodes. From there, it goes into the bones, brain, or liver. Less than 25% of women diagnosed survive past five years. The woman I was speaking with, Michelle*, was diagnosed two years ago.
I know it’s because of Tim, that I feel so much closer to death now. Tears welled in my eyes immediately. Seven weeks ago, that wouldn’t have happened with a complete stranger. I’m so sorry, I might have said. Or, I’m so glad yoga gives you peace of mind. I definitely wouldn’t have so instantly felt her pain as my own, and cried.
From that moment on, we were truly connected. We talked about her yoga practice and why she needs it, and the yoga studios she visits. We talked about her treatments, and how so many women are dying right now. How the big names in the breast cancer world are often not the good guys.
And then suddenly, as if we’d wrapped up all we needed to talk about, she left.
My co-worker, Danielle, looked at me imploringly. “Can’t you do something for her?”
Explanation: lululemon gives each team a certain Product Testing budget, where we can give out product to people who may use it. It’s at our complete discernment as to how we utilize this budget. Sometimes we outfit a team of athletes, sometimes we give it to people who have never worn our product.
“I was going to gift her the pair of pants,” I said, “but she just walked out!”
“Well, go after her!” Danielle said.
I found myself running into the parking lot. I looked left and right, and finally spotted her heading to her car.
“Michelle!” I called repeatedly until she heard me.
I caught up with her and held her arm.
“I’m the store manager,” I said, breathlessly from running. “Can you please let me gift you with a pair of pants to support you with your yoga practice and recovery?”
Tears formed in her eyes immediately and she placed one hand to her heart, and whispered, “What?”
“I don’t want you to have to worry about budget. Please let us give you a pair you can use, it doesn’t matter what it costs. You can pick any pair you like. Please.”
She covered her mouth. “Oh my God,” she said, and leaned her head down while the tears fell. Briefly, she leaned her forehead into my shoulder and whispered, “I don’t know what to say, thank you so much.”
When I placed her into the fitting room, I could hear her weeping softly from outside the door.
At the end of her experience, she picked a beautiful pair of Dark Olive Align Pants, perfect for her yoga practice — not too much compression to affect the tumor, no wrap-waist to get in the way during Chaturanga. She promised to come see me to update me on her progress. She knows a lot of about sound baths, which I am very interested in.
Danielle was crying, I was crying — later, when we told our co-workers about it, half the store was crying too.
I know it’s because of Tim. The veil between this world and the other, unseen world, has been exposed for me. I thought it was a brick wall, but it ‘s only a piece of cellophane, and it’s not even sealed tight: it’s billowing in the wind. We could go at any moment, with the gentlest push.
Life doesn’t wait for us. Death does.
Because of that, we must all be extremely precious to each other.
When I think of Michelle in her deep green Align Pants, practicing yoga — the image feels precious to me.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.