Feature Friday is back! This week’s guest post is from Sarah McConnell. Sarah’s is Paul’s niece and goddaughter. Sarah is currently completing her bachelor’s degree at North Carolina State University, studying Industrial Systems Engineering and Spanish. She is an avid traveler, yogi, and soccer lover. Thanks to her Uncle Paul, she became involved with the Rotary club and lived in Chile for a year through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. This summer, she is interning at Ernst and Young in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As submitted by author Sarah McConnell:

January 9, 2019, I arrived in Hong Kong to start my semester study abroad of Industrial Systems Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I love to travel and had never been to Asia before, so I was beyond excited to start my Hong Kong experience and learn about a completely new culture. During the year preceding my study abroad experience, I started practicing yoga and was specifically excited to practice yoga in Asia. I speak highly of yoga to everyone I meet: friends, family and strangers alike. I especially suggested it to my mom, who I thought would really benefit from practicing.

Once I arrived in Hong Kong, I was busy with school, meeting new friends, and experiencing the vibrant city that never sleeps. Chinese New Year arrived, bringing a trip to the Philippines with some new university friends. Upon return from our amazing trip, I really felt I needed to start practicing yoga again, so I tried searching for studios close to my university. 

My mom and I had been trying to plan an April yoga retreat together in Thailand for my 22nd birthday. She called me one day on my way to the university and told me she wasn’t able to come anymore because my Uncle Paul was very sick, and she needed to stay around just in case my dad needed some support. The next day, she called and told me the doctor had just given news that my uncle only had 6 months left to live. I could not speak. 

I had 3 months left to finish my studies in Hong Kong and then planned to return and immediately visit my uncle. Later that day, I ended up finding a yoga studio close to my dorm and scheduled my first yoga class in Hong Kong.

A week passed and the day came for my first yoga class. After the news from my mom, I began writing a letter to my Uncle Paul. I brought it with me to the yoga studio so I could finish writing it and send it the next day. At the beginning of each yoga class, we set an intention for our practice. That day, I did yoga in honor of my uncle. 

The class was amazing, and I felt extremely peaceful afterwards. I ate a good meal and returned to my dorm for bed. The next morning, I awoke to a text from my mom saying we needed to talk as soon as possible. In my heart, I already knew what she was going to say. I called and she just confirmed, my uncle had passed. 

“I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, light, peace, and joy. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one. Namaste, Uncle Paul.”

The last time I had seen him was almost a year ago when I visited Philly with some friends on a road trip. He was happy and healthy. We walked around a market, and had a great meal and an even better conversation together. This is a great way to remember my Uncle Paul.

Uncle Paul is the reason I first became interested in traveling and learning about new cultures. When I was young, he gifted me the movie, A Little Princess, about a girl named Sara and an Indian gentleman. Ever since then, I have wanted to travel to India and everywhere in the world. I see the magic in new cultures and the value in good people. Uncle Paul was the first person to give me my favorite type of gift, knowledge. I highly recommend reading Vagabonding and The Untethered Soul. They are two of my favorite books both of which Uncle Paul first shared with me. I loved our talks about religion, his advice about life, and his never-ending stories about travel. He always had something interesting to say. 

A couple days passed, and I was able to talk about my uncle’s death with my mom. We talked about how I felt and how our family, especially my dad, was handling the situation. Then her face lit up and she shared that she had finally attended her first yoga class. Some friends had invited her, and it was the extra push she needed. I was beyond happy for her. She then shared that she dedicated her practice to my Uncle Paul. During the class her heart felt extremely open and she just couldn’t help but cry. As it turns out, my mom practiced her first yoga session the same day I practiced my first in Hong Kong, the same day my Uncle Paul passed. The world has a funny way of doing things. 

Now, I am sitting in a yoga center in Cambodia writing this guest blog. I have practiced yoga many times in Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, and now Cambodia. Each time I practice, my intention is set for my Uncle Paul. If you have never tried practicing yoga or meditation, I cannot speak more highly about it. It is a great way to practice controlling your mind, handle any situation good or bad, and become a more peaceful individual. 

Thank you so much for reading this post. Even though my Uncle Paul is not physically on Earth, I know he is forever with me. “If there ever comes a day when we cannot be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”