“I just might be able to walk again,” she said in a barely audible voice. “I know,” I said under my breath, feeling every details of her tarsal bones. She knew she would never and I knew she knew.
Her feet permanently dropped at the ankle like a long stem rose brought home the night before sadly drooping in the morning light, making me feel slightly guilty of something which I didn’t know I did or I didn’t.
She wanted to have them dorsiflexed. “My toes stayed curled up in my boots today. They want to be stretched,” she said. I held her foot and slowly reproduced walking motion.
“When I move your foot, just imagine that you are moving it by yourself,” I said.
“My brain is not sending correct signals, isn’t it?”
“Your brain is sending signals all right. It is your nerves that are not delivering messages to your muscles,” I explained. “It’s like a highway with the southbound lanes closed. You can take a cab to JFK airport, but there are no cabs to take back to Manhattan…” I caught myself walking into the dangerous territory of reality. Your motor neurons are dying. You can’t rehabilitate dead neurons. That was what I didn’t say.
“When you want your feet on the wheelchair footrest, your friends place them on it for you, don’t they? Your mind sends a message to the feet to move and your feet are placed on the footrest, even in the exact way you want them to be placed, with the heels of the boots on, not off, the footrest. It’s just the same as your doing by yourself. Your mind moved your friends’ hands.”
“I’ve never thought that way,” she said and started to cry in silence. I’ve never thought that way either till now.
Her feet, which didn’t have to carry her weight any more, were impeccably soft and ice-cold at the same time. “Nirvana,” she sighed when I jostled her foot in my hands. Her leg muscles held no tension. There were no muscular defenses to disarm. I remembered her once athletic legs. With her nerves failing to fire, her muscles were wasting away. “Floppy, aren’t they?” she kept reiterating. Flaccid they were. Her immobile legs and feet were still cold as if she had been standing on the winter edge of the water, letting the surf sweep cross her legs, every wave slightly higher, taking away her body heat, higher and colder until it touched her knees. The frigidity had been steeped deep in the bones, refusing to thaw.
I am palpating a skeleton, I thought. Through the thin layers of flaccid tissue my fingers could clearly see bones and tendons. When I touched a tiny muscle behind the knee, she said, “I didn’t know it would feel so good to be touched there. I would never have known.” You would never have had to be aware if your legs didn’t fail to move, I thought.
She moaned. “Is the pressure too much?” I asked. “No. It just feels so good,” she said and then asked, “Why does it feel so good?”
“Your body is ready to receive. It is difficult for most of us to surrender to receive. I feel Ki is flowing into your body effortlessly,” I said. “Most people resist and block the flow, you know.” I was making up as I went, searching for words she wished to hear. Or was I verbalizing what I always knew?
“Yes, I can feel Ki flowing in,” she said, and after a pose, continued, “Don’t you think I just might be able to…”
She wasn’t talking to me and I didn’t say anything.
Her feet and legs were finally reclaiming warmth, like the frozen ground moistened by the gentle rain. She hadn’t talked for a while. She was drowsing off.
“I fell asleep,” she said.
“It’s O.K. to fall asleep.”
“I don’t want to. I’ve been fighting hard not to.”
I didn’t understand. It’s the whole point of getting a massage, isn’t it? To relax and drift into sleep away from the tension of waking life, to yield to somebody else’s hands, allowing somebody else to take care of you.
“I want to remember how good I’m feeling now. If I fall asleep, I won’t remember. I don’t want to miss even a moment of it.”
The muscles had transformed themselves into a purely sensory organ, responsive to external stimuli, while unable to react. Like a legendary musical instrument, she responds to my touch and she is listening to the music that she only can hear. Her intact sensory nerves respond to the touch with the ever-changing combination of pressure, temperature, rhythm, direction, slow, fast, light, deep, circle, straight, faster, lighter, nerves firing and resonating.
What a state of being. She had a pure awareness of the body and I was resonating together with her.
The hands of Kuan Yin (観音）touched me through her.
The Japanese word for “treatment” literally means laying on of hands.
RIP my friend, July 29, 2011. You were a warrior.