The music is nondescript piano against ocean waves, and the whole place is dimmed to an orangey glow.
The therapist begins to work, and I can feel her arms shake a little as she presses, presses, presses against the concrete wall otherwise known as my neck. Finally she asks, “Do you get headaches?”
“Yes,” I admit.
She silently continues to work, and I finally ask, “A little tight in there?”
“Very,” she says.
The massage was a gift from my Mama Friend, just one stop on the “spa day” Groupon she booked for me last week.
“Listen,” she’d said on the phone a few days before. “You’re going to need to get Andrew to pick up the kids from my house on Friday because you’ll be at your five-hour spa day until seven.”
“No way am I taking your spa day,” I said, easing my minivan to a stop at a red light.
“Oh shush,” she said. “Look, I was going to do it, but I don’t really need the haircut and you do.” (She was right. I hadn’t had a haircut since May. Possibly April.) “Also, you’re having A Week, and you need the massage.”
“So do you,” I point out.
“I’m hanging up now.” And she does.
And everyone needs a Mama Friend like this: that person you put down in the Emergency Contact spot on all of your forms, the one who will take your kids on a moment’s notice because you have a deadline and your babysitter bailed.
I’m talking about the person you call about 14 times on the Third Day of Potty Training. The one who has watched you ugly-scream at your kids and still tells you you’re a great mom. Who sees no problem with your feeding those picky eaters of yours pizza for the third time this week. The one who gives you a Look when someone says something infuriating in Mommy-and-Me class.
She’s that person who can tell when you’re having A Week. She the one who forces her Groupon on you because she loves you enough to make you take what you need.
In the room, the therapist is working out a knot in my back. Even though I told her deep tissue, the pain is so much that I feel like I might black out, and finally I have to say something.
“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to get all this out in one session.” She puts the blanket back over my back and moves down to my feet. “You’re exceptionally stressed. You know that, right?”
“Mmm hmmm,” I say, and I think about all that I’ve been holding. These things that I’ve tossed up to the heavens in prayer – “Here God” – things that I genuinely want to give to him.
I love this idea of simply letting go of my thoughts and worries and anxieties and fears. Watching them disappear into the endless infinite like balloons, like lit Japanese lanterns, rising beautiful up to Him who is big enough to absorb them.
But it’s not really as easy as all that, is it?
It’s not as easy as just opening our hands because we’ve found other places to hold these things. The massage therapist is uncovering what I thought I’d let go, knotted muscle by knotted muscle. They’re all still here, these questions and fears. They’ve taken up residence in my body, tight in my neck and back and shoulders.
In the end, the song is right and them dancing bones are all connected: the foot bone to the leg bone, the leg bone to the knee bone. The thing I grabbed hold of with my hands has worked its way into neck bones that crack a little when I roll my head from side to side.
And maybe the work of a faith community has less to do with telling each other to let go and let God, and more to do with helping release one another from the things that we can’t seem to shake.
Because I’m lying in the massage room and I’ve been sad for weeks. The massage therapist is working all of these knots, and it seems to me a kind of holy work. Church work. People-of-God kind of work.
She has learned by heart the feel of hidden sadness, anger, anxiety. She knows that it has to be worked out slowly and methodically with warm cloths and careful hands and soft-piano-quiet.
She knows that what we hold on to – what we can’t seem to let go – is stored in the unseen places. The neck. The back. The complex, cavernous heart.
And in the end, peace begins – not so much with me and my knotted, hard heart, but with the love of God always trying to work its way deeper into my soul.
With the people who will help me to see it, to receive what I need but can’t seem to grasp. People who do the long work of helping each other let go.