December 19, 2009

The Skin Horse Tells His Story

In the morning, my boyfriend Marshall and I will be traveling to Bellingham, a Seattle suburb, for his grandmother’s memorial service: she died last week at the age of ninety-two. Although the family had a known for a while that she would soon be passing, it was still difficult, in some ways, to see her end unfold. I watched Marshall hold her pale, thin hand in his large strong ones as he leaned in trying to understand what she was saying to him. His eyes kept tearing up and spilling over as he studied her face intently. It occurred to me then that someone had been speaking earlier of a birthmark that Grandma had that covered a large portion of her left cheek and neck. According to accounts, Grandma had spent her life ashamed of that birthmark because it prevented her from being perfect or beautiful. And yet at that moment, where the end was fading into another beginning, Grandmas’ skin was so thin and bloodless that you could hardly even discern the birthmark’s existence. It was easy to see, however, that Marshall loved his grandmother deeply and had never cared less whether that face was clear or marked.

I have many clients who end up on my massage table saying, “I’m a mess” or “I’m just a wreck.” I discourage this kind of talk because on the one hand, I believe words have power, and I don’t want clients giving their bodies negative messages that either cause further suffering or prevent healing. I also discourage such talk because it often seems to come with a sense of self-loathing. For example, it’s not only the neck and back pain that makes clients say “I’m a mess,” it’s how she perceives some extra weight or spider veins or how he resents the shoulders he can’t always seem to pull up straight or the arms that won’t work for eight hours without pain like they did twenty years ago. Sometimes I almost feel that they see pain as a punishment for not being able to do what all the advertisements imply they should do: stay young forever, unchanged and unmarked. As that would be a futile and indeed impossible task, I find the stress that it causes to be extremely saddening.

So at Christmas time, I’d like to share with my readers—my friends, my family, my peers, my clients—a few lines from a favorite book, The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams. In The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse explains to the Rabbit about nursery magic and why only some toys become Real. He explains that it is the toys that are really loved—not just looked at or played with, but loved—become Real. The Skin Horse also tells the Rabbit that becoming real hurts sometimes, but that one doesn’t mind as being loved is a wonderful thing: “It doesn’t happen all at once . . . You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But, these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand” (13). The Rabbit is not comfortable with this concept at first; but read the book, and you’ll find that becoming Real turned out to be the greatest blessing and bliss that the this little Rabbit could have imagined.

I’m almost forty years old, and I’m a massage therapist. I love what I do and the relief and healing that I help bring to my clients, and yet I limp out some days with a sore hip and aching shins and incredibly non-lustrous hair. I’m Real, I believe, and happier this way than I’d be in any other, with people who come back to see me time after time. Marshall’s grandmother—tiny and stooped and curled up like fading petals--was so very Real to him. Love makes you Real. Set out to give some, and it will come back to you in a myriad of ways that make the imperfections of existence much, much less important. When you think about it, isn’t being Real the greatest gift you could ever receive?

Merry Christmas,


No comments: