The best part of my business is getting to work with all types of amazing people, some of whom continue to influence me long after our project together. Ana Stenzel, who left this earth just one month ago, is one of those people.
One of my first freelance gigs was working on "The Power Of Two," a documentary film about twin half-Japanese sisters with cystic fibrosis (CF). The subjects were Ana and Isa Stenzel, two amazing women living in the Bay Area and entering their 40th year on this earth - despite doctors’ predictions that they would never make it past high school.
The twins each considered it a miracle to have lived long enough to graduate from Stanford, establish meaningful careers, travel the world, and share their story in both a memoir and documentary film. As close friends in their CF and organ transplant community seemed to pass away every week, Ana and Isa chose to continue living unafraid. They watched each other fall in love and get married; celebrating every day they had breath in their lungs.
Cystic fibrosis is a terrible disease that deteriorates lung tissue, and in advanced phases, can only be survived with a double lung transplant. Ana & Isa were fortunate enough to each receive new lungs and a new chance to breathe.
In one of my favorite scenes from "The Power Of Two," Ana & Isa sit around a table with a group of fellow lung transplantees. Each person describes what it felt like to take their first breaths after receiving new healthy lungs. My body felt like a temple. It felt sacred, full. It was ecstasy. It was life.
Ana & Isa’s story helped me recognize how lucky I am that no matter what worries I have, taking my next breath is never one of them.
My growing yoga practice has underscored this awareness of breath in the past year. In learning about all the benefits of full deep breathing, I have more appreciation than ever for what the twins went through. The majority of human beings go through the entire day without once noticing their breath, taking it for granted until it’s gone. And I was no different.
I'm now learning that breath is a powerful thing to pay attention to. It regulates our effort, our relaxation and our focus. It connects us to our physical space and to our physical bodies. It is the most basic building block to our waking reality. And without it, we’re nothing.
The Stenzel twins have been acutely aware of their breath from day one. And through voicing their most raw and intimate personal stories, these women empower an entire community of people that share the same struggles.
But they also have something to teach those of us without major health issues. When I spent time with Ana and Isa, their love of life was intoxicating. Their gratefulness for every breath, for every day. Despite all their suffering, I always felt like they were very fortunate. Because every day on this earth was appreciated, noted, and lived to the max. They had far greater perspective than any of us. They saw this life for what it is - an experience that could be over without warning, and one to be taken full advantage of while it lasts.
Ana Stenzel did take full advantage of her 40+ years on this earth. She probably lived more than most people do in twice that amount of time. It’s hard to believe she’s gone because part of me saw her as being invincible in the face of disease. But she leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and encourage. A legacy carried on by her sister, Isa, and by a lifetime of writing and advocacy. A legacy that will continue to give people hope, to fight for change and to find comfort in common experience. She was an incredibly talented writer and compassionate leader, but most of all she was a selfless friend.
I was incredibly lucky to be part of Ana’s story even in the tiniest way. She is one of those people that in a short amount of time left a huge impact, and she will be missed.