My mother died in 1998 – she was very young when she was diagnosed with a rapid case of Alzheimer’s disease. Losing her tossed me into a spiritual abyss as I wrestled with what to do with my life given the “gifts” I opened up to in the process of watching her pass. I was pretty determined to honor this new realm of appreciation that I had come to have for life, really knowing that we are here but for a short time.
In that time, I started yoga, and it was in my practice that I realized that it was “this” that could unite the wisdom of the more enlightened human being that I had become with the external attributes that had come to define me as a business woman. It was truly a perfect marriage.
So combining great examples and templates I had learned from several mentors with bulldog faith and perseverance, BYSJ opened in 2003.
October 2005, I recall getting an email from someone that I had heard was taking the yoga and interested in doing work/trade. His verbiage was more sophisticated so I could tell he was an adult. I remember telling him this was good, but let’s have you do the yoga for three months and see how it goes with that. (We had trained many volunteers, only to find that they had such a hard time with the yoga AND the work/trade items that they would quit both volunteering and the yoga!)
I came in the next day only to see Chris behind the front desk taking transactions, giving out towels, helping members set up in the room, and then handing me a list of things we needed to buy for the studio – toilet paper, peppermint patties, etc… I remember just standing there with this smirk on my face knowing that this guy did not listen at all to what I said -– and I loved it!
Chris was instantly a breath of fresh air – right away I wanted to trust him. He just kept showing up, so bright, happy to offer advice and insight into the business, and he was funny and light hearted. We decided to take the year together, and piece by piece I would hand over more aspects of the business. I had no idea of Chris’s past, but over the course of that first year, Chris felt compelled to share with me his struggles from his past – at times I felt like he was confessing, and while his desire to hold integrity was appreciated, for me, his performance rating was only what I had seen and felt – he had impeccable standards: constantly cleaning, sweeping, organizing, polishing, studying, handling, calling and learning to the point of knowing something even better than the manufacturer did.
He was there every day, all day, like 10 hours a day. It was tough to get him to take a day off. You would find him on the roof, down the street talking to PG&E, the security folks, and of course always behind the desk where he was most comfortable, talking to new and regular members – his friends – the perfect maître d – knowledgeable, charming and full of humor.
And no task was too small. We used to wash our own towels and the poor washer and dryer would break a lot and Chris would cart over wet dirty towels to the laundromat across the way and bring them back ready to fold. He never backed down from snaking a drain, replacing filters, cleaning those huge mirrors each afternoon if it meant that you could have a good class and a good experience.
Chris was not the easiest person to work with though. He once told me early on that he had never been “friends” with any of his bosses. And, I recall saying, “Well, I’m not surprised cuz you are doing everything in your power to make me not like you.” But, he told me that he wanted to learn how. So he starts to reveal the character of what would become my best friend and someone I saw for 10 years straight every day in one way or another.
He began to understand budgeting and came up with really great ways to save money, as well as creative ways to increase revenue. But there were many things he didn’t understand. That’s when the hard-wired lawyer in Chris came out to play and play he did! If you know Chris, “bulldog” is an understatement!
“Why are we giving out peppermint patties and almonds, they cost money?”
“Why do we offer tampons and razors for free – no one cares?”
“Why do they get a free towel their first time?”
“Do we really need fresh flowers every day, why not plants or fake flowers?”
“What is a Feng Shui master?”
But he believed in what we were doing, he respected the impact of our intentions and he once told me that he respected that I was ALL IN, so he was too. So we agreed to disagree. And, no matter what, he had my back.
His commitment to me and to BYSJ led to the changes we needed to make that I was incapable of seeing. If I had an idea, he’d poke holes all day and come back with the same idea but set in something better, and because of our “marriage” the brand got better. I may have had the spirit but he had the sensibility. I held the character and he brought in the logic. If he was yang, I was yin…he saw the black and white – I brought in the grey.
Chris never hid his truth. He will tell anyone who asks about how he was saved. How, one day, whatever angelic or majestic presence it was, in the most intense of circumstances, he was saved – instantly! No more drugs, no more alcohol. He didn’t like it when you praised him for it. He truly believes he didn’t deserve it and that it was a gift. Finding BYSJ was his platform to repay this gift by offering himself in service, and that he did in spades. I’m convinced that Chris may have been saved, and this “gift of divine intervention” initiated this big change in him, but it was all of you that he came to know intimately, with your stories, successes, sorrows, joys, tributes, injuries, struggles, kids, addictions, and relationships that prompted him to become what we will always remember Chris as:
“You are the yoga dog energy, the guardian, the heart, the shoulder, the hug, the ear, the protector, the big brother, the truth sayer, the difference and the questioning for the better of my life.” Says Diana
“He was a huge part of inspiring me to follow my path once I found it. I am blessed to have practiced beside you, to have worked with you, to have learned from you.” – says Kay
“Chris embodied pure life, energy and spirit, and was just a super good guy. I’ll miss his pragmatic attitude, his positivity and sense of humor. He made life better for those around him.” –says Sean
I recall one day as we were creating the new studio and he was now 6 to 7 years of being the Manager at BYSJ, saying to me “you know this place is way more than a gym, it heals people.”
It took three years from envisioning a bigger studio to actually opening our new home January 2012. And it took much time and money. Chris in his beautiful loyalty – besides the great ideas he contributed in making this such a special home – sat with me one day and said, “If you want to go for it, I’m in.” Let’s throw the hat over the fence and in the process we’ll figure out a way to go get it.”
This studio may be my vision but it’s his creation. He owns every aspect of this space and has it so dialed in for your comfort and for mine. He honored my special nuances and I honored his common sense about how things should be set up. It was the perfect illustration of what our relationship had become – amazing partners AND devoted friends. That can never change.
I still feel the embrace we exchanged at our grand opening party! Now things had space to grow, including his heart. He had more young folks in his office that he was sponsoring. It wasn’t uncommon for him to give advice to some of our work trade members about life or a situation; he became a leader in the Landmark Forum; he was starting to save for a home and he was reunited and having so much fun with his whole family again. He was doing the yoga more regularly, and he didn’t miss the chance to sit behind the desk on the back counter to greet all of you when you came in for class.
August 5, 2013, it was a little after 11:00 pm and I got a strange call from Good Samaritan hospital about a John Doe they had discovered was “a Chris Canevaro.” It was just earlier that evening, around 7:00 pm, that I had said goodnight to Chris as he was leaving to get a massage and I was finally getting in a shower, and per usual, we ended saying, “see you tomorrow.”
The next 22 months that followed have been heart wrenching, confusing, frustrating, emotional, exhausting, raw, horrifying and God questioning. What? Why? Choosing and living through four surgeries, dozens of radiation and chemo treatments, Chris never complained about his condition, held his hope and dignity – he would be back doing what he so loved– it did not matter how much time it took. He’ll be back to BYSJ. After all Chris can’t die, he was just starting to live.
I am so grateful to his family. They love me and let me in like a daughter and sister – you feel so helpless to do anything and with no permission necessary, I could bring him waffle fries from Carl’s Junior, Peet’s coffee, sit with him, pick him up or sit in UCSF meditation room and just pray with them as he was in surgery. I’m so sorry for your loss, Sean, Missy, Suzi, Walt and especially you Kathy – losing your child is not supposed to happen. Kathy, Chris’s mom, will deny any compliment you give her but rest assured she was the mountain he leaned on every minute of every day.
Over the 12 years, it’s not unusual for BYSJ to host parties as celebrating is a big thing we do with anniversaries, challenges, new babies, accomplishments; but life also brings sorrow, and we are naive to think we can overlook the tall task it takes to face that, too. How awful and how beautiful to have our Chris be the highest of teachers in bringing us this lesson on what to do with something we know nothing about and want nothing to do with – dying. It’s just too painful.
So in the days and months that ensued, Chris, showed us how to show up with his undying desire to stay as he has always been – committed to BYSJ. All those emails and Facebook posts on his status were HIS idea, not mine. Despite being weak or tired, he came to the anniversary and 60 Day Challenge parties. He accommodated my schedule despite having a day of radiation if we needed to go over and handle important questions and run through strategies. And, you responded in ways that overwhelmed Chris with your support (fundraiser for food), encouragement (saving a spot for him class), help, (driving him to and from the studio), and your rawness to be human (cry with him).This was not a party that we were used to but we participated wholeheartedly with our fearless leader, Chris, guiding us with his motto, “one day at a time.”
So, yes, Chris, BYSJ is not just a gym, it heals people and because of you, the truth you inflicted on us, that you have required us to face, has enabled us to embrace the full circle of life and how healing that truly is.
So many of you have sent poems and quotes to bring solace during this time –love them all especially this one from Teacher, Fiona because I think it is so Chris:
Death is nothing at all
By Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone;
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was;
there is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind, because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well.
I still talk to him every day. I’ve been looking for him out my window and decided to make a deal with him: he doesn’t need to show up but just throw a hat over the fence and then I know you’re good.
The last few weeks have been at times unbearable, writing a little each day and know that it can be shared and shouted out in this fashion is the very least of a Tribute that I can give this special human being that surfaced to touch and then explode in my life in the very best possible way to profoundly enrich the person I’ve become and am still becoming.