Thursday, March 06, 2014


One of the things you learn, by my age, is the absolute priority of the body. Gone are the fantasies of trumping its exigencies by will and imagination. Its rule is total. Its judgements can't be appealed.

The freedom left by this realization is shaped differently, but it is really no less spacious. The fourth wall here is death: it is the audience we play to, and never acknowledge, but never turn our backs on. Wall and doorway, barrier and opening. It's where the meaning sits, inscrutable, beyond the footlights.

I let someone trim my beard, for the first time in my fifty-five years, yesterday. She had me sit on the edge of the barber-chair, and scrutinized my face. Her eyes were screwed up, and her lips were pursed and wrinkled like a rose, and she darted at me with the clippers, shearing here and there with sudden darting moves. Like a hummingbird. All the while careful not to do the obvious and easy thing, which would have been to stand between my legs.

I have to be careful not to touch people, nowadays: I am so used to it in my work, that I'm at risk of forgetting to observe the taboos properly, like the foreigner  in the Dilbert comics ("My people have no personal space!") who stands nose-to-nose with people. ("Oh, I get it, your pockets are for your use only?") I am impatient, sometimes. If it's a temple, then why don't you honor it? You can't have it both ways. Sacred is sacred.


Tom said...

Your point about being careful not to touch people, nowadays, is well taken. It must be all too easy to act in a manner that has become customary through long practice. And indeed, why not honour the body, but without worshipping it.

Dale said...

Aye. I totally get the judaeo-islamic prohibition of images. Our own people worship photoshopped images of bodies, to the point where they have not the slightest idea what real bodies look like, or how to honor them. But I don't think there's much danger of anyone worshipping real bodies. Smelly, noisy, awkward, inconvenient things, at the best of times, however lovely they are.

Kristen Burkholder said...

Loved this post. thank you. Yesterday I touched the arm of a real estate agent Nate and I were talking to and I winced as I did it. He seemed to take it okay but I wished I hadn't been so familiar. We are thinking of buying a house from him for chrissakes. But I get lost in a conversation if I can't touch people after 20 minutes. I don't know where I am or what to do next if I can't make contact. Perils of the profession.

Dale said...

Exactly. How can you understand people you can't touch?

Unknown said...

Never had a professional massage, but I'm a nurse. I touch people, at work and any time I engage. A light touch on the shoulder, or between the wrist and elbow has never gotten me in trouble. I read your article in Reader's Digest and choked on the lump in my throat. I even read all the comments til the tears blurred my vision, wiped my eyes and continued. I was offended by the naysayers, obviously they completely missed the point. So sad for them that they are unable to relax and enjoy. I look forward to finding more of your thoughts.
From Texas, thank you,

Dale said...

Thank you so much, Kathy! And welcome. Bless you: the touch can mean so much to people.