‘Don’t ride this annoyance to anger,’ I warned myself, even as I clenched two fingers into a tight half-fist and gave a little whack on the solid metal doorframe of my car. A tiny, fierce hint of my inherited reaction to rage. A little outburst against all the little annoyances that had built through the morning, the week, the month…life. My knuckles stung for a second, bringing me back to myself. OK, that’s all I needed, just a little whack, just a little vent.
Already I was judging these clients. ‘What do we have here? An American woman, a Puerto Rican husband, maybe recently married. A little late life spice. Living in a condominium by the sea. Retired to the beach?’
None of which I knew. None of which they deserved. But still I judged. Why? Because the call button at their gate didn’t work and I had to wait in my hotbox of a car. Because they didn’t check their phones until fifteen minutes after our appointment. Because there I was at another cement jungle by the ocean, more little closed-up, stacked tiled boxes of condominiums, and I was hot, and tired and sore. And I’d rather be resting or surfing.
None of which was their fault. They just called for a massage, as is my job, as I offer and advertise. And I could have said I was too busy, but I didn’t, so there I was, as was my obligation. But I was grumpy, and so I came up with a solution. I would not drive there again, to risk being late, to park my car in a treeless lot, to haul my table up three flights of stairs.
I stepped into the house and curtly greeted the older woman standing before me. I registered bright red lipstick on pursed lips, a flowered robe, and I started to judge more. Without any reason besides how I felt in me.
I told her right away my decision. That next time we would do the massage at the Healing Center, rather than coming to her home. I said it kindly, but assertively.
“Oh, yes, of course,” she said, “that is no problem,” with nothing but sweet understanding. It disarmed me. I felt terrible. Did I catch a hint of bewilderment in her voice? Did she wonder why I was upset? Or did I image my toxic frustration as more potent than it was?
I knew what I was doing. My N95 mask couldn’t hide that my head was slightly down, that my posture was closed, guarded. This sweet, innocent woman, who had called me specifically, (who would be paying me), to be tender and kind to her. I drew a breath. I needed to shift my mood. That flurry of frustration. I could not spend an hour and a half feeling like that. At some point I had closed down, and I needed to open back up.
It was a clear decision. Sigh and let it go, or hold onto stubborn indignation. I looked up. She was watching me set up. Standing by in case I needed help. Tension is palpable, even if we don’t know it exists. I sighed. ‘She does not deserve this. I just need to let it go. It’s over. I’m here, we’re about to do a massage.’
I watched my childhood tendencies dissolve. Thank god I’ve gotten better at switching tracks. I used to stay stuck in indignation for a while, imagining that dwelling would bring some sort of satisfying justice. Only inner shifts bring real peace.
When I placed my hands on her back, we took several breathes together. I sank into compassionate love, that love that dissolves tension, and we both relaxed.
She told me about her life.
Her husband is Italian. They met forty years ago when they were both working on cruise ships.
“He had just come on as a captain. It was his first day and my first day, but we both thought the other had been on the ship for a long time. Then our first date was actually in San Juan.”
She told me about their romance, about the time they spent apart on separate ships. Before cell phones and email. As I always do in my generation, I wondered about infidelity. I marveled at the committed romance of past generations, even with less communication.
“It was funny to know he was out there on another ship, passing in the night. When there was a moon, I knew that he was seeing the same moon, and that was our connection for a while.”
I thumbed tight lines of muscle in her neck as she told me about her job. “I am a nurse practitioner. But I don’t practice much, except to do mission trips. We usually go a few times a year over to the Dominican Republic.”
My heart jumped at the idea. Travel? Service? I moved to work between her shoulder blades and asked, “Do you guys ever need volunteers? I could come rub people!” I joked.
“Oh, of course,” she said. “Just once COVID clears up.”
We chatted as I worked and she shattered all my judgements. Less than bad, I felt glad I’d let them go before taking them too far, before I crossed from annoyed to angry. Even if she hadn’t been such a remarkable woman, she wouldn’t have deserved my fierce mood.
We sank into silence and I looked around the room. My eyes fell on a lamp with a stained glass cover, with dragonflies laid into the design like a mandala. I remembered a miniature version of the same lamp in my mother’s craft room and smiled. There is always something to link us, and little clues to remind us. Little clues for connection. Little bridges between worlds. Little reminders to stay calm and kind, no matter who or what.