You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine…
— Mary Oliver
She’s telling me everything and anything – how she taught her granddaughter to make biscuits, where she gets her hair done, where every single member of her family lives and what the weather is like in each of these places. It may be a stereotype, but it’s also true: Texans talk a lot.
Then I hit the sweet spot. You know the one, right in the middle of the arch, the place where all our decades of standing and walking and dancing live. She stops mid-sentence. She leans back in the chair and closes her eyes. I watch as the infusion center and everything that goes along with it drop away. She takes a deep breath and sighs, “Oh, Baby-girl,* that feels so good. That makes a body feel necessary.”
Necessary. Makes a body feel necessary?
This is not the first time I’ve heard this phrase since moving to Texas, but it floors me every time. What does that mean? Is your body ever unnecessary?
I consult my pal. A born and bred native Texan, she’s the go-to gal for all my stupid Jersey girl questions about this strange new home of mine. Is this a thing people say? She laughs kindly (as she usually does when I have such a query). Yes, she’s heard people say this all her life. She lays her accent on just a little thicker. “It makes sense, darlin’, when you’re sick for a long time and in pain, yes, a body can feel unnecessary – useless, not good.”
Ah, yes. Necessary=useful=good.
This is the equation we all know. This is the equation we all use. This is the terrible equation that keeps you separate from what Mary Oliver calls, “the soft animal of your body.”
I want to smash this equation to bits with my soon-to-be-arthritic hands and stomp it to dust with my sore and tired feet. I want to stop using it myself to goad my 40 year-old knees to run just one mile further, to measure the sag of the skin on my upper arms, to tally the number of colds I get this year compared to last.
I want my clients and my loved ones and everyone I know to stop using it because it’s a lie.
I want to scream from a mountaintop:
YOUR BODY IS NOT THE STUPID CAR YOUR BRAIN DRIVES AROUND!
Four of our five senses reside in our head, so I guess it makes sense that we think that’s where it’s at. Taste, smell, sight, hearing, all in your head. But touch…aah, touch is everywhere. The vast majority of information coming into your brain, the stuff that is forming your conscious and unconscious life, is coming from your sense of touch (feeling) inside and outside of your body.
The surface of your skin is the surface of your brain – embryologically, physiologically. Those “gut” feelings? Those are actual neurological feelings from your enteric nerves, evolutionarily-speaking the oldest (and wisest?) part of your nervous system.
Your body is never unnecessary, never useless. Even a body wracked with illness and pain is a good body.
And every body is a potential source of joy, of pleasure, of connection.
Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? You are alive.
Touch your skin. That’s you!
Touch someone else’s skin. Do it! (Why should we massage therapists have all the fun?)
No words are needed.
Go press the surface of your brain against the surface of someone else’s brain. Gently. Sweetly.
Hi, you. This is me. This is your body. This is my body. Isn’t this good? Isn’t this necessary?
*On a totally unrelated note, everything really is bigger in Texas, including the people. In Austin, my diminutive stature and dark complexion lead almost all of these fair, statuesque folks to two assumptions: First, that I am very young (I am not), and second, that I speak Spanish (I do not). I find both these things irrationally flattering.