Nobody wants those cards back

We think death is what happens to other people, until it makes someone we care for vanish from our eyes, or takes one community member too many. (We’ve had our share here in Waldo County. Last week’s suicide is not resting easy with me, and hopefully never will. Sadness: the price you pay for putting down roots and getting to know people.)

Your youth might have been cast in the gloaming light of perpetual twilight or dawn, with gentle humor and romance and mild discomfort resolved in time for merry holidays, but live long enough and death moves out of the dark woods, into the backyard, and right up into a lawn chair at the neighborhood picnic.

Act like it’s not there, but it kind of casts a pallor on the festivities. What with that raspy breath and sunken eyes and everything. What a downer. Someone make more sangria.

Our bodies give us hints all the time but we are adept at ignoring those hints because hints slow us down. Here’s one such: your body doesn’t like to hold on to things. In fact, its whole purpose is to get rid of what it doesn’t need, through elimination: sweat, tears, mucous, respiration, menses, #1, #2, and going bald.

But we think holding on to things – be they physical, emotional, psychological – is a good idea. If we don’t hold on, how are we going to make them last?

What, says body? You’re not serious, are you? Make what last for what? Our body doesn’t know the date of its imminent end, but it’s hard-wired for letting go its whole life long. Death is merely the final act for the cell birth-death-birth-death it rehearses every day.

My client and I were comparing mothers: this is what women my age and older do, now: discuss our mothers as if we were talking of wayward children. Hers had sadly passed; mine was still very much alive, but both of ours had a lifelong habit of holding on to everything.

“SHE THREW NOTHING AWAY” my client bemoaned and I had to commiserate, as she regaled me with tales of entering her mom’s house and finding everything just as she had left it, which was now my client and her sisters’ task to clean up.

I had a one-up on her, though, which I enjoy pulling out at moments like these. It’s pretty bad.

“Yeah,” I said, “That’s awful. Hey. Did she ever send you back the cards you sent to her? From, like, years ago?”

“Oh my word. Yours did that??”

Yes, in brave attempts at de-cluttering, my mom will sometimes send me overstuffed envelopes bursting with magazine articles, newspaper clippings, the inevitable Christian tract (never mind I’ve been a Born Again since I was 8, she assumes I still haven’t heard the Gospel, otherwise why did I vote for Obama?), and copies of letters from former neighbors, some of which are quite interesting.

These envelopes then include a card or two that I sent to her, 15, sometimes 20 years ago. I receive these with the horror one reserves for reading one’s own journal from high school: extracted with thumb and forefinger, hastily scanned, hiked into the woodstove with a shudder.

If you send a card to someone, you don’t ever expect to see it again, do you? It’s the assumption, nay the hope, that once they have it they will dispose of it as they see fit. Possibly recycled, but even better flipped into a fire. Nobody wants their cards back.

Unwanted stuff — from our past, from the cluttered homes of our mothers — is one thing. The stuff we carry around inside, personally manufactured, tended, nurtured, kept alive over the years due to spite or ego or pain or some macabre cocktail of one or more stinging condition, is a whole ‘nuther. It’s the stuff that blocks the tender inconvenience of moving on, something our body is keen on, if we but let it do what it wants to do.

The body gets it. We don’t. It feels like a personal affront when we’re asked to let go. So we hold on….and on….and on.

I happen to think massage therapy is exemplary on a number of fronts – spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological – and, here, it also shines in all its beauty. There is no simpler method for helping you surrender emotional baggage, mental clutter and habitual tension than getting a massage therapy session.

Experiencing the professional, loving, attentive hands of another person detangling your nerves, spiraling out your stiffness and giving you cellular affirmation that, yes, you are going to make it after all, is an intervention of the highest kind. Your mind quiets, your body relaxes, and somewhere in that silence under your skin healthy things happen: you get off the table, and as you dress, voila. A certain plague has left you.

We really have a hard time saying goodbye, although it’s the most natural thing for our bodies to do. Professional touch, in the form of massage therapy (and other such modalities) helps us move from one place to another: from birth to life, through trauma towards calm, from frigidity to freedom, from loneliness to comfort.

We can let go because we’re reassured. The past is over, even if the past is only 60 minutes old. It’s left behind in the massage therapy linens we climb out of, free and clear, and able to try again.