Imagined Righteousness

The man who sat next to me at a dinner last night said he’d never had a massage. We’re in Napa, and the conversation had turned to what people did during the five-hour break in the meeting schedule. One of our company had immersed herself in the cocooning heat of a mud bath, followed by a wrap and massage.

Oh my god, I thought, someone who’s never had a massage! Why it’s un-Californian!

I swooped in.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t want to,” he said.

“Todd used to feel that way,” I told him, nodding my head at my husband, who was seated on my other side. “But he fell in love with it after I booked one for him.”

I smiled smugly, the efficient wife.

Todd piped up. “A good masseuse can really get in there and get rid of knots in my neck and shoulders. And it’s a great stress reliever.”

The man next to me said nothing.

“And,” I said, taking a different tact, “it’s one of the few alternative therapies that is actually efficacious. That and guided imagery.” (I thought the interjection of a big word like efficacious might sound kind of authoritative.)

He looked unmoved, but must have felt compelled to respond.

“Man or woman, I just don’t want a stranger touching me,” he said.

At about this moment I started to get a grip on myself. Who declared me Head Marketer of Massage? Why was I evangelizing for Deep Tissue?

When I turned in a couple of hours later, I returned to reading Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye. I was about a third of the way in and feeling vaguely skeptical. Why I was I not enraputured by her memoir, the story of her mother’s two year losing battle with colon cancer? Her sentences are gorgeous, after all, and her story telling effective.

Something about her premise, early on, bothered me:

Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me… Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable. And because my mother was relatively young — fifty-five — I feel robbed of twenty years with her I’d always imagined having. I know this may sound melodramatic.

Yes, I thought when I read those sentences, it does.

She continued a page later:

In the months that followed my mother’s death, I managed to look like a normal person. I walked down the street; I answered my phone; I brushed my teeth, most of the time. But I was not OK. I was in grief.

She was selling grief. I wasn’t buying. No, I was judging.

This morning I remembered the instructions I gave my husband a month or two before my father died. I don’t know how I’ll feel, I told him, but I don’t want to be rushed to “closure.” I have a friend who has a pretty specific idea about how long it is permissible to grieve before wrapping things up. I told my husband to keep that friend away from me. I didn’t want to hear it.

I now realize that I had — have — a construct for the right way to grieve. One should not rush to closure, but should also avoid melodrama. Having built this model for myself, I seemed to be imposing it on others… exactly like the friend who advocates for swift closure.

Leave the man alone, I finally said to myself last night. It’s his business, not mine.




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One response to “Imagined Righteousness

  1. Ellen Carleson

    Ah, what a life lesson: IS THIS MY BUSINESS? It’s a hard one to learn, and I re-learn it almost daily.

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