Tell me, in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that Human Touch
Some days it goes like this: Cassidy calls her mom, so casually. Calls her because she feels like calling her. Because she has a question. Because she’s worried about her. Because she wants to say hello. Because she can. “Hi mom!” she says. “Hi mom!” I call out from the background, and then feel a sudden rush of horrible grief for the words. When is the last time I said them? Some insignificant moment taken for granted, as such moments should be. Every moment can’t be weighted with importance and mortality. And yet they are for me, they are. Some days.
Some days it goes like this: I drive Charlotte to junior high along an Indiana farm road, the sun rising in my eyes, and she asks what her favorite books were as a baby, and I tell her she liked the naughty books best, the book where the dog babysits and the baby swims in the fishtank, the book with the two bad mice. “Let’s smash it up!” she remembers, and we laugh and we’re back there, together, in the brick house, on the Dairy Road, the dust and the horses and the black snakes. “All the best things were in Virginia,” she says, so casually, kisses me and shuts the passenger door and I turn for home. Would it be healthy or unhealthy, do you think, if, blindfolded, I climb into my bed and remember some moments in detail: me, the children, the horses, the boredom, the exhaustion, the husband just visible on his walk home, rounding the bend. He’ll be here soon.
Thank God the days are fewer when I think of the one who hurt me first and worst. But the yoke is always there, a load I can’t set down. I have long stretches during which I don’t even notice. But then I will suddenly tire, realize how heavy that box of darkness is, the one that also contains a gift, sure, but you have to carry it forever and some days it’s so heavy.
I have learned how to care for myself on those days. Breathe. Lie down. Or get up. Close your eyes. Or open them and look. There is a tree. There is the sky.
On these days touch is also important. I go to a deep tissue massage therapist once a month, though I cannot afford it. He tells me all the places I’m holding tension. I’ve read Bessel van der Kolk, so I like to imagine which trauma lives where in my body. Divorce in my shoulders. My mother in my hips. Heartbreak and betrayal, the hands, the feet. Trauma lives in the body. This is why yoga is a more effective longterm treatment for PTSD than medication.
When I realize trauma therapy has become a kind of religious practice for me, I miss church. I am every bit as lost as all the churchy folk warned I would be without it. But I cannot bring myself over the threshold. Instead I lay on the massage table, thinking about Jesus. I close my eyes. I hear him pump the oil into his hands, press his fingers into the soles of my feet. I don’t let myself cry but I would like to. He massages my feet and the fast knot in my chest uncoils, for a time, for a moment of relief.
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”
Jesus was so moved by a foot massage he forgave a woman her sins. This makes me laugh. I still delight in Jesus, who I think was funnier than I should. And oh, how his feet must have ached. I think he was not merely moved by this woman’s posture, her grief, her love, her need to be near to the source of some grace. I think he was moved by her touch. He was like, thank you. Thank you for that soothing, healing, human, skin on skin. He was so moved he then did it for the apostles. One of his last strange actions on earth was to tend to their feet and tell them to tend to each other’s feet. Fellow followers of this strange and funny man, I tell you: We’re supposed to touch each other.
“Do you need a hug?” Cassidy asked me on my way out this morning, and I recoiled. Some days I resist what I know will bring relief. I did hug her briefly, though. “You didn’t want that,” she laughed. “It’s okay to say no.” She knows I am working on having boundaries, protecting myself. But today I am protecting the pain, hiding with it in my bedroom like some bad friend I’m not supposed to hang out with anymore. Some days we resist what we know will heal us. Some days it’s like this.