At the end of an early morning yoga class this week, a staff member entered the room teary-eyed and said she had terrible news that we would all want to know. Anxiety about the coming election is high, and my first thought was to brace myself for news that some angry, unhinged assassin had shot Barack Obama.
But it wasn't that; she told us that someone who practiced at the studio, whose name I did not recognize, had passed away. So it was with an odd mixture of relief and sadness that I joined the impromptu circle that our yoga instructor called together. She asked us not just to join hands but to squeeze each other's hands very tightly. Even though I did not recognize the man's name, I clasped hands with the others. There was so much loss in that circle, it was overwhelming; it hit me like a wave. Several cried as the instructor spoke of "Cam," and I felt a cry press at the back of my own throat.
Later, I found out that "Cam" was the tall, white-haired gentleman who frequented the morning classes. At 76, he was one of the eldest yogis at Shakti. I'd not spoken with him more than just to say hello, but I had observed him genuinely thank each instructor for class, mentioning some specific aspect of practice that they uniquely brought to their instruction.
He always had a sense of humor about his own yoga foibles, laughing and shaking his head at himself if he lost his balance or when the instructor moved into a series that he was going to need serious "modifications" to get through. I'd practiced in the space behind Cam at least once and felt humbled at his tenacity and light spirit while I, many years his junior, struggled with my own limitations, both physical and mental.
Since the morning we learned of his passing, which was sudden and unexpected, there has been an offering space at the head of the yoga studio to Cam, where people have placed flowers and written blessings to his memory on a piece of paper.
Saturday's news brought more details about this man, who was pioneering attorney P. Cameron DeVore, an expert in First Amendment law. The Los Angeles Times story on DeVore details his efforts to defend the First Amendment rights of advertisers:
In 1975, he successfully defended an ad that said that Imperial margarine was 'not butter -- it's better than butter,' a line that provoked the ire of butter manufacturers in Washington state. DeVore persuaded the court that the margarine company had a right to use the word 'butter' in its advertising.
When TV news reported on the possible risks to the public of a chemical sprayed on apples called Alar, DeVore argued for the public's right to know.
He was looked to by lawyers around the country as a guide on First Amendment issues and was a superb advocate before the courts. He was a paragon of legal ethics, someone who people turned to for advice. His death is a loss in a deeply personal as well as a professional sense.
DeVore had practiced with Davis Wright Tremaine since 1961, when it was known as Wright Simon Todd and Schmechel, and he had helped orchestrate the Joint Operating Agreement between the Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A son of a newspaper editor, he'd tell people he had ink in his veins.
DeVore's son Chris said of him, "He was one of the few people I knew who loved his work and retained joy for his work all his life. He felt the work he was doing was not only interesting but important."
They say the yoga mat is a mirror for how one behaves in the world. During this morning's class, our instructor asked us to stand in Tree Pose and form a mudra of offering with our hands. We were to place whatever thankful sentiments for Cam we desired in that space. Mine were humor and humility. He didn't take himself too seriously on his yoga mat, and judging by accounts, that was how he behaved when off his mat as well.