I found out about this horrible tragedy through an email I received yesterday. Huub Verheij, one of the most inspiring people has decided to end his life. We all hear these stories from a friend’s friend or in the news. Once it happens to someone that you personally knew well and had influenced your life so much you realize the surreality of the fact that you will not see him ever again. That made me super sad because I had so much to tell him. I did not know how to express my deep sorrow and heartbreak. Yell, kick, cry, pound on a wall, or throw things. After all, I decided to express my emotions through writing. Umberto was a true hero for me. The way he impacted the lives of so many was unreal. I just wish that the lunch we had together was not meant to be the last one.
Dear Huub or as I called you, Umberto,
I received an email. I received an email where it says, “Huub has passed away.” I first thought: “This… must be a mistake”. Once I got back from a moment of disorientation and got back to that email and I found out there is a support group that has been created by other Yoga teachers. It was made in your honor to raise money for your funeral. By this time, I had a horrible feeling that it was your decision. Somehow, I got back in time when you told me about yourself and your story. I prayed that my investigation would not confirm my initial assumptions. Unfortunately, it did. I am not sure how many people you truly opened up to about yourself but it does not matter now. It is late.
A very bizarre thing happened though. Last year I bought a book written by a well-known Roman philosopher Seneca. It’s called “Moral Letters to Lucilius.” I find it a very heavy reading which not meant to be for every occasion but this week I opened it again and I came to a letter number 70. “On the Proper Time to Slip the Cable”. People tend to give things a meaning to make sense of the world around them and I supposedly do the same but what else I can do. In the chapter, Seneca says:
“Fools that we are, we believe this bourne to be a dangerous reef; but it is the harbour, where we must someday put in, which we may never refuse to enter; and if a man has reached this harbour in his early years, he has no more right to complain than a sailor who has made a quick voyage. For some sailors, as you know, are tricked and held back by sluggish winds, and grow weary and sick of the slow-moving calm; while others are carried quickly home by steady gales.
You may consider that the same thing happens to us: life has carried some men with the greatest rapidity to the harbor, the harbor they were bound to reach even if they tarried on the way, while others it has fretted and harassed. To such a life, as you are aware, one should not always cling. For mere living is not a good, but living well. Accordingly, the wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can. He will mark in what place, with whom, and how he is to conduct his existence, and what he is about to do. He always reflects concerning the quality, and not the quantity, of his life. As soon as there are many events in his life that give him trouble and disturb his peace of mind, he sets himself free.
And this privilege is his, not only when the crisis is upon him, but as soon as Fortune seems to be playing him false; then he looks about carefully and sees whether he ought, or ought not, to end his life on that account. He holds that it makes no difference to him whether his taking-off be natural or self-inflicted, whether it comes later or earlier. He does not regard it with fear, s if it were a great loss; for no man can lose very much when but a driblet remains. It is not a question of dying earlier or later, but of dying well or ill. And dying well means escape from the danger of living ill.”
If I would not read this couple days ago I would probably react differently now. I would be mad at you. And even though I can’t express enough how sad it makes me that such an inspirational, warm and rich soul has left so many people who looked up to him, I understand. I hope you are free now. Free from all the pain you had and was carrying around.
That time I came to your studio for the very first time has changed my life. You were one of the few people who really shaped me the way I am today. In that time I went through very dark times myself and I felt like I have had very few things in my life that I have enjoyed. Also being far from family and friends, I felt very lonely and lost in Amsterdam. But not in your studio Forty Degrees.
I am not going to tell you how great, probably one of the best yoga teachers that have ever lived you were. You knew that. Everyone knew that. What I want to tell you is that your classes were not about yoga. It was about relationships you were able to have with your students. You made an effort to know everyone’s names and weaknesses. You always made sure everyone left rejuvenated and energized. Ready for their own struggles. You were strict but fair and discipline was one of your favorite words. And that was crucial for all of us because your discipline gave us freedom. You were a man of no-bullshit policy and that we all worshiped.
I’m also not going to talk about how once I came three times a day because I just needed to hear your voice. The way you thought yoga was incomparable to anything. The professionalism and the passion you were giving us during each and every lecture whether you were tired or not was incomprehensible. Each and every class felt like it is the last one with you. Everyone was focused and did their best. We were an army. Umberto’s army of kindness.
There was time when you made me unbelievably angry and I just wanted to tell you to fuck off and never speak to you again, yet I still came to your class. Umberto, I am very sorry that we will never speak again and I cannot come through the FortyDegrees doors, take my shoes off, find my mat and place it in my spot once more. It makes me cry that I cannot listen to your instructions and you telling me that my hands have to be tightly connected together and not even a slice of paper should go through.
Now, I live in a different country, but there is not a single yoga class that does not remind me of you and how you made me feel. Every time I do tadasana – The tree pose, I find myself quietly say: “…standing tall like a tree.” You were truly a strong tree for many of us, but that did not mean you did not need one. I hope you are free now Umberto. And I am not sure you knew but you will always have a special place in my heart. I just wish and hope you knew. At one point we stopped talking to each other because of our stupid stubbornness. I guess being two Tauruses in a room was not easy. It just pisses me off that only a week ago you even liked my picture on Instagram, and now you are gone and I haven’t got a chance to say anything. I always wanted to ask whether you got a chance to wear that stupid Russian hat that I ordered for you from Moscow because you kept taking mine. But forget the hat. All I wish for you is you to find peace and be happy again. And even though I feel like each and every yoga place sucks compare to yours, I will try to find one or even make one myself one day. It will be my honor.
Roman Krznaric, the author of the book “How should we live. Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life” says that in today’s era, death is a subject as taboo as sex was during the Victorian era. If we would live in the 19th century, we would talk about it and discuss it. At the end, it is part of our lives anyway. Sometimes we have to stop and think about death. I just wonder why those who inspire us so much cannot help themselves. With this writing, I also want to raise awareness of talking about your demons with those around you. Do not keep it to yourself. Stop heroizing yourself and assume that you must be strong all the time. You and I. We are not. We are humans. Weak and soft. Afraid of the world around us and sometimes of ourselves. Afraid of our own mind that sometimes goes to places that nobody wants to imagine. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good people around them who can support and bring them up. If that is the case, please seek professional help. Not all psychologist are golden, but there are things like meditation, exercises, books and other stuff that helped me personally. One of the biggest help were classes at Umberto’s Hot Yoga studio. Which makes his decision to end his life very personal for me. However, as the roman philosopher Seneca observed in On the Shortness of Life: ‘So it is – the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.: “ Even though Umberto’s life was short, his impact was enormous.