I was on the floor in my bedroom in Austin trying to meditate when I got the call. I was testing out a technique where you stare at a flame, so I was sitting on the floor in the dark staring at a candle. My girlfriend called to tell me that our friend from St. John was gone. Her name was Kristi, she was pregnant with her first child and her death was sudden and unexpected and it shook us all to the core.
My first instinct was to scream and cry and drink and call all of my friends who were also in pain so I wouldn't have to be alone. I decided to keep the lights off and stare at the flame instead. I was at the end of my first yoga teacher training and had just finished reading "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron. I'd spent my entire life running away from intense feelings and it hadn't gotten me anywhere, so I decided I'd try to sit with the pain instead. I sat there in the dark with tears streaming down my face for about an hour and realized Pema was right. It still hurt really fucking bad but sitting with the pain was somehow more peaceful than running from it.
Kristi meant something to everyone who ever spent time on St. John and she wasn't the kind of person who was supposed to die young. She was the manager of the restaurant I worked at when I first moved to the island and we called her "Mama Hen" because she was always looking out for us.
She was seven years older than me and watched over/put me in my place like a big sister would. I was a wild child back then and she sent me home from the bar and/or walked me home more times than I can count. She also sat me down more than once and told me I was acting like an idiot for chasing after guys who were not interested or good for me. I remember crying one night at the bar over a guy who was stringing me along and she sat down on the stool next to me, put her hands on my shoulders and said:
"You have to know you're worth more than this.
Also, you're drunk and embarrassing yourself and you need to go home."
Man, I miss her.
I skipped my teacher training graduation so I could fly to St. John the next week for the celebration of her life. Missing the final weekend of training was devastating but I also knew it's where I needed to be. I hadn't been back to the island since I moved away two years before and I needed to be with my people. Her birthday was that week and she'd planned a big sunset boat trip on a catamaran, so we all decided to go out on the water anyway.
Here's that sunset.
We talked about who she was and what she meant to us. Kristi was stability, grace, adventure, laughter and mother to all. She had the ability to reinvent herself, endlessly. She went from slinging frozen drinks and Coors Lights at happy hour to pouring fine wine and vodka martinis to deciding she wanted to grow plants and working at the nursery then got her captain's license and then became a bee keeper and then finally, she was going to become a mother. (This was ALL on St. John, by the way - where everyone's hobby is drinking and going to the beach). She was unapologetically herself and followed her heart and pursued her dreams and she was the last person we thought we'd lose like this.
On the plane ride back from St. John, I started thinking about Kristi's legacy and how many lives she changed just by being who she was. I also realized that since my yoga teacher training was over, I was going to actually have to do the work to become a teacher and I was absolutely terrified. I started thinking about my own legacy and what I would leave behind. I thought about how proud Kristi would have been that I was becoming a yoga teacher, especially considering all the times she (tried) to keep me in line. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to go from being an office manager to creating sequences and standing in front of a room inspiring people.
Then I asked myself what Kristi would say. And I knew she would say something crass like, "Why don't you stop whining about it and just do it? Who gives a shit what people think?"
So I did it. I quit my job a few weeks later. I poured my heart and soul into becoming a yoga teacher even though I was scared. I thought of her ability to reinvent herself over and over again and I channeled her strength before my first audition (right after I tried to convince my mom I was sick so I couldn't go).
We all have the ability to reinvent ourselves. You can switch careers, chase after your dreams, find a new passion and rewrite your story, over and over again. It will probably be terrifying because change is hard, but you only have one chance to live the life you've imagined, and this is it.
I got that call six years ago tomorrow. And I wouldn't be where I am today without you, Kristi.
The Kristi Hansen tribute will run all day tomorrow on No Shoes Radio Sirius/XM. If you have a minute, you should tune in and listen to all the lives she touched, just by being her badass self.