The first time I saw my niece Tara, she was just over a year old. I walked in to my parents’ Midwestern living room and there she was, standing in her playpen. I hadn’t even known my older sister was pregnant. When I had seen her the previous year, just before she left for Vrindavan, the yoga ashram in Northern California, her belly was covered in loose-fitting yoga clothes, and she made no mention of it at all. I wished that she had, for there was a lot of joy to be shared around the occasion. I found out a lot later on that my sister had known about the liaison between my mother and my husband and she was hostile to me in protection of our mother. I received two letters from my sister once she was settled in at the farm. Both of them were horrible and hurtful to read. It would be years before I would gain the understanding of where that much venom was coming from. I had heard from my mother that I had a niece, but by then the joy of it was lost in my sister’s hateful words and the upheaval in my life at the time.

Tara Jyoti, Sanskrit for “Star Light”,  was gorgeous: her skin was honey-colored and her little fuzzy head of brownish-black curls was like a halo around her head. She was huge in her presence, though tiny in her body. There was an instantaneous connection between the two of us. Her huge, soulful brown eyes looked deep within me, and I felt she’d read every part of my soul. I thought, “Now you know who I am…who are you?”

Since my sister was also staying at my parents’ house, Tara and I spent a lot of time together over the next couple of months, and she became a brilliant light in my world. For her, I was the one with the car keys who drove her to magical places like the park, the pizza parlor and the ice cream shop. Every morning she would toddle the length of the house, from the bedroom she shared with her mother to the workroom off the garage where I stayed, and jump up on the bed and hand me my car keys. She was full of light and love and happiness. She brought such joy to me as I went through the painful recovery of having been in the hospital and the very ugly divorce that followed. She created a space for a peace to come between my sister and I, though it was an uneasy one.

A few months later, Tara and her mom came down to the ashram on Paradise Island while I was there. Soon after seeing me there, Tara went running down the dock, calling out that she was going to go to “Katie’s car and we going to get pizza!!” I caught up with her before there was any catastrophe with the water. Once I had explained to her that we were in a different place, and that I didn’t have my car there, she was fine with going to the other side of the Island where we took a long walk on the beach. We were constantly together for the week, my sister having quickly developed a knack for disappearing as soon as she knew that Tara was in my care. When their visit was up, and they returned to California, I stayed on the Island for a few weeks longer before I went up to the ashram in Quebec for the summer.

After the summer in Canada, I went with the group that was heading to Vrindavan Yoga Farm Ashram in September. When I came to the Sivananda Yoga community in California, Tara Jyoti and I were reunited once again. Now almost a three-year old, she was extremely verbal and knew her way around the farm. She took me on a tour, introducing me to all the animals and showing me her favorite places. She walked me up the hill behind the farm-house to show me where her friend (whom I will call) Mike lived in his tent. It was then that Tara Jyoti introduced me to the man with whom I would spend the next sixteen years of my life, and who would become the father of my only child.

While I took the Teachers Training Course, it also became my responsibility to watch over Tara while her parents worked. It seemed very easy for them to be off somewhere else, leaving Tara to be watched over by others. Before I got there, it was hit or miss as to having someone who would really care for her. She would wander around the farm, tagging along with people. Meals and naps were not regular, if existent at all. It was easy for me to take on the responsibility of caring for her. I used the skills I had honed caring for my younger sister, and Tara soon had a regular schedule. We had some wonderful times together, she and I. Our days were filled with wandering the land and discovering what Nature had to offer us. I found out a lot about life from Tara. We had this special, mystical relationship. She had a way of saying things that showed she knew me deep in my soul. She gave me the opportunity to give to her the caring and love I had wanted as a child. She had an insightfulness about her that took me back to my own childhood, and I was so happy to be able to support her. I listened while she made up the most wonderful stories about the things she saw, whether they were seen or unseen to those around her. To this day, when I see a willow tree, I am reminded of the huge tree outside the main house at Vrindavan, with its long strands hanging to the ground underneath which Tara and I spent many an hour in our “secret place”. My favorite time was when she quietly came in to the meditation hall in the morning and curled herself up in my lap as I meditated. I would rock her as we chanted after meditation, and her presence would fill me with warmth and peace.

Life was very blissful life for me. My days were long, and filled with yoga practice, studying to be a yoga teacher, tending to Tara and beginning to build a relationship with Mike. The training ended in mid-October and, with the exception of Mike, the other thirty or so students left. The core group of us who lived at Vrindavan fell into our rhythm of life. I began to teach yoga classes and practice Ayurvedic bodywork. The colors of the leaves changed, the frosts came and the ashram became a quiet, insulated place of peace and inner growth.