Friday, May 02, 2008

Sick, Injured, Deformed

When I was in massage school, and thought about the kind of practice I wanted to have, I pictured primarily relaxation massage and maybe sports massage: working on healthy bodies, tuning them up a little, helping them rest. With some shame, I owned to myself that working on sick, injured, or deformed people just scared me too much. I hate hurting people; the idea of blundering and making something worse appalled me; and from childhood I've averted my eyes from injury and deformity. I knew that these people needed massage all the more, but I thought that I wouldn't be able to face it. Someone else would have to do those massages.

The experience has been the opposite of what I expected. I find that I love working on injuries. I love tuning my touch to what someone with Crohn's or fibromyalgia or CFS can handle. Helping someone with cancer do the delicate work of flushing the chemo back out of the tissue is something that gives me great satisfaction. I work happily with scars. It's startling how wrong I was about how I'd feel about these things. People comment on how confidently I approach injuries: "my other therapist was basically afraid to touch it," they say.

And I find that doing the work has radically changed how I respond to the sick, injured, or deformed that I meet in my daily life. I no longer avert my gaze. I'm thinking about what they might need, how I might approach touching them. And I think now that the instinctive aversion was not at all what I thought it was, and nothing I needed to be ashamed of. It was the instinct to touch and explore and help running smack into the deeply ingrained injunctions not to look -- not to notice -- to pretend nothing was wrong. It wasn't disgust. It was baffled tenderness.

And when you actually work with something, it becomes clear that what's extraordinary isn't the injury, the tumor, or the weakness. What's extraordinary is the heroism with which the body is rising to its challenge, how determined it is to find the workarounds, how tenderly it cradles and protects its healing parts.

There's always something you can do. That's another thing I hadn't really understood. Just to lightly rest your hand on an injured place, and let the warmth and light soak into it, and and let it shine back from it into your hand -- that's therapy. It says, to the broken limb or the radiation-seared tissue, you still belong in the human world, you still can give and receive love.

Bodies, even officially healthy bodies, rot and stink and decay. It's going on all the time. We don't need to hide it or ignore it. We don't need to make it something that isolates us. We can make it a ground of love. We had better make it a ground of love, in fact; because it's the only ground we have.

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