Sunday, May 14, 2017


One of the privileges of being a massage therapist is that I'm no longer afraid of getting old, and dying. Oh, I don't want to, of course. There's always that instinctive flinch away from death: no sentient creature is without it. But I mean the particular fear that comes of growing up in a world in which old bodies are carefully concealed and well-wrapped, even when they're allowed to appear at all. People really just don't know what their bodies are going to be like, when they're seventy, eighty, ninety. Except me. I know exactly what they're going to be like: the textures and tensions of skin and flesh, where the skeleton is going to loosen and stiffen; and so of course I know what mine is going to be like too. I know what deterioration can be mitigated and what can't. I'm not subject to the fantasy that I will somehow be the only person to hit 80 years of age without looking old; nor am I subject to vague exaggerated horror about that transformation. It's real, ordinary, everyday. I, too, should I make it to 95, will probably wear a diaper of sorts when I climb laboriously onto a massage table. But I'll enjoy my massage as much as ever.


Bodies remain wonderful, magical. The Jewish conception of the body as a temple, a sacred space, has always resonated with me. Years of daily familiarity have heightened that sense, rather than diminishing it. This body, here, now, under my hands, these forms that are like and unlike any other body that has been on my table, that are like and unlike those of any other mammal, any other vertebrate, any other sentient creature. This is a house of God, if anything is: and it's one that we are uniquely suited to understand and venerate.


My status, as a massage therapist, is low: somewhere in the range of hairdressers and housekeepers, even if it sometimes ranges as high as that of physical therapists or as low as that of prostitutes. One is "a treasure," of course, but one is never taken quite seriously. Which I'm happy about. If I were a less privileged person it might rankle, I guess: but these days I don't really want to be taken seriously: I don't want my feet to sink that deep in the sand. I'm traveling light: I have a long journey to make and I'm not planning on building any houses on the way. 

I think, always, of the dipper: that comical little bird, "usually seen bobbing up and down on a rock in mid-stream," otherwise modest and nondescript. It is a shaman, a traveler in two worlds: it will vanish into a stream or a waterfall's splash pool, and you'll glimpse it, if you're lucky, swimming under the water, with as much ease and speed as it flies through the air. It doesn't need respect, on either side of the mirror. It has its own business to mind.


marly youmans said...

I'm quite fond of living an ordinary village life, where plenty of people don't know more about me than that I am so-and-so's mother or so-and-so's wife, the woman who they see at some place or often and chat with. I like passing along, being a simple little piece in a simple place.

You know, I just spent three weeks in North Carolina, where I went to museums and restaurants and studios and galleries and many wild places with my mother. She's 88, and though she has some health problems, you can give her a staff (not a wizard's staff, just a stick) and she can go 3.5 steep up-and-down mountain miles before her legs hurt. She weaves; she gardens at home and at the NCArboretum; she volunteers. It's an inspiration to me to keep moving, keep in shape, keep curious, keep chasing after beautiful things, keep living to the max.

rbarenblat said...

Beautiful, Dale.

Unknown said...

Yes, I understand. If we are lucky, we touch the universe when we touch others through massage.

Such a dreamy word, universe, yet I know it contains cataclysms as well smooth regularity. It's a strange thing to say but I am relieved at the impersonalality of the universe. Oh, my, yes, I am relieved.

Are you?

Dale said...

Oh yes. It's why I love the stars: because they will go on being beautiful regardless of any success or failure of ours. I really don't know how people who believe in God as a person can bear the weight of feeling that all things are meant, that the universe is fully intended: I would find that crushing.

Unknown said...

You understand. I am grateful.

Unknown said...

A friend who had been trying to control her life and the people around her was told by a wise person, "Ruth, get the hell out of the center of the universe. It will do just fine without your trying to keep everything spinning."

Sabine said...

Beautiful and calming words.

I know I am not the only one who thinks that massage therapists are magicians to held in very very high regard.

Jeff said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Dale. A few years ago, when I needed to see a massage therapist about some back and shoulder issues, I was fretful, but I've since some to appreciate the sensitivity (in all senses of the word) of people in your line of work. In an age of fragile and phony connections, people are afraid of being truly touched and seen. You're working more than just their muscles and bones.

Nimble said...

Yes, the gift of not being taken too seriously. I love that. We find ourselves together by vast coincidences. Let's enjoy it and not be self conscious.