If you know anything about me, you probably already know that ‘the art of asking’ isn’t my strong suit. It’s not that I don’t want help, because I do. I really do. It’s not that I don’t need help, because I know I need it. I’m human and and every human needs all the help they can get. It’s more that I’ve got a really messed up story about what it means to be a burden, and how the only way to be loved in this world is to be an asset at all costs. Therefore, I give. Therefore, I do it myself. Therefore, I end up isolated, overworked and often very lonely.
This past week I gave myself the gift of solace. A quiet retreat on the Big Sur coastline, where my only responsibilities were to wake up (I had grand dreams of sleeping in — but no, I woke up at 4:05 am just like every other day of my life), to eat (super yummy vegan meals that were served up and offered three times a day), to soak in the hot mineral baths overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and to show up on time for my daily massage. Heaven? Yes. This was an impromptu trip born out of sheer exhaustion, a terrible fight with a loved one and a much deserved need to be on the receiving end of love and kindness.
The most difficult part of my day has been the extremely short conversation that I have with the massage practitioner du jour before I get naked and lay on her table. Difficult because she asks me what I want. Difficult because I don’t know. Difficult because I’m scared to ask. Difficult because what if she says... no. (I told you: not my strong suit.) But finally today, I got up my courage and made a fumbling attempt at asking for help.
My practitioner, a smiling and gentle older woman with a purple scarf in her silver hair, asked, “What do you want to work on today?”
I said, “This is my first week off in nearly a year, I need the opposite of ‘work on,’ all I really want is for you to just be nice to me.” At which point, I immediately burst into tears. Overwhelmed by how hard it was to say those words. So afraid to sound weak. So afraid of being rejected. So afraid of being a liability. She graciously smiled and said, “Okay.”
For at least a half an hour, I had a lump in my throat, you know that kind that you get when you’re trying not to do the ugly cry? That was me, barely breathing as she gave me the kindest, sweetest massage of my life. That was me fumbling my way around learning to receive. She was being nice to me, just like I had asked her.
At the end of the massage, she slid her right arm under my shoulders and then took her left arm over me and scooped me up and literally held me. (Now that I see this in writing, it sounds quite weird — but trust me, it wasn’t weird. It was the sweeter than anything that I could have ever imagined.) She just plain-ole-hugged me and didn’t let me go. At which point, I just surrendered to the tears that fell. She put me back down and put her hand against my cheek and started to sing the faintest of lullabies. At first, I thought I was imagining it, as I was being held in kindness by this loving stranger. After a few moments, she hesitated, her voice cracked and she went silent. And then I realized what a risk she had taken for me, she held me and then she sang to me, and God, I loved her. So I put my hand over her hand on my cheek and smiled as tears fell, and she sang.
She had asked, Love? And I had said, Yes.
And I need to keep saying yes. I need to keep taking the risk to state what I want and then I need to keep surrendering to the possibility that love isn't payment for added value. And I need to trust that there are people who just simply love. Trust there are people who just simply love... me.
To love and receive love back. To take the risk for connection and intimacy. To stay with myself long enough to figure out what I really want. This is my work right now. Maybe it's your work, too. Maybe it's all of ours.
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