When I returned home from visiting my daughter in Indonesia bands of muscle in the guise of steel ropes threaded with industrial hex nuts formed a latticework on my back. No amount of stretching, yoga, or deep breathing seemed to loosen the grip these giant pods of lactic acid had on my back. This morning, my dear husband had some extra time to finally begin work on the trellis. Thank you, God, for giving me this man! I believe my neck is a full inch longer now. (note to Howie: I think you’ve only loosened a top layer)
Message therapy can be traced back to 2800s BCE Egypt and China. Hindu practitioners perfected the Ayurveda art of healing touch through the millennia, and then a Swedish doctor (former gymnast) developed the “Swedish Movement System” in the early 1800s. This and Japanese Shiatsu seem to be the most commonly used in the western hemisphere. Interesting, recent research found that the efficacy of massage therapy has more to do with the mechanisms of DNA than squeezing out lactic acid. It actually triggers the process that turns off the inflammation-promoting gene, PGC-1alpha, and turns on the gene, NFkB, that contributes to healing muscle tissue. As one with a connective tissue disease, this information is enlightening and strengthens my resolve to appeal for regular massages. (ummm, Howie?)
There is so much more that happens when a massage is given. First, the action occurs between two human beings (massage chairs and tables notwithstanding). And when a friend or lover performs the therapy, it is an expression of compassion, an act of love. It is relationship, it is being human. Maria Popova goes so far as to ascribe this as the perpetuation of creation: “Action is therefore the most optimistic and miraculous of our faculties, for it alone gives rise to what hadn’t existed before — it is the supreme force of creation.” Because when Howie gave me a massage this morning, he was putting his declarations of love into action, and we grew to know something of each other afresh.
You see, relationships cultivate, prune and transform our truths. Adrienne Rich poignantly explains in her 1975 essay: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” Our words carry the truths, but truths spring from action.
It is not enough to say, “I love you,” though often it is sufficient in the moment. To love is to act on that love. And keep on.
It is not enough to say, “That is unjust,” though many times it sparks a movement. To make things right is to act on the system that supports injustice. And keep on.
It is not enough to say, “I believe,” though frequently it reawakens the seed of trust buried deep within. To believe is to live that belief. And keep on.
Still, Popova warns, “contrary to the popular indictment that speech is the cowardly absence of action, action cannot take place without speech. Above all . . . it is through the integration of the two that we reveal ourselves to one another, as well as to ourselves.”
Speech and action. Act and being.
Another May-born, Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861–August 7, 1941) places all the weight on relationship: “Relationship is the fundamental truth in this world of appearance.” It is not as if I know precisely what I mean when I speak, articulate a position. I may not even understand precisely what I want to say about how I feel. To speak it, to say it out loud, I do not know whom I reveal when I disclose myself. But with Hannah Arendt, I must “be willing to risk the exposure.”
When we are with one another, and not necessarily for or against—actively with the other—such risks seem possible. And worth it. Throughout these 40 days of meditations on turning 50 I’ve been a bit more vulnerable, exposing some struggles and many perspectives previously hesitant to express. Yet, I have discovered a few beautiful souls who are with me, hints of what is possible after I pass through next Friday, with these people – and others along the way. I also know that I am different from when I said “yes” to Howie nearly 24 years ago. I am constantly amazed by how much we are changed when we converse, share our thoughts—it is a creative moment, creating more of ourselves, becoming more.
So how can I be with someone today – and create something more, something beautiful?