Tough Love

Imagine if all our angels were sweet and gentle, constantly showering us with words of comfort, love and wisdom. Imagine if we could pick them out of a crowd, identify them from a mile away, feel their presence with absolute certainty.  That would be reassuring, wouldn’t it?

But the hard truth is: Our angels often appear in disguise. Sometimes they smoke and swear and ride motorcycles. Sometimes they wear pants, a singlet and walk about in bare feet. Sometimes they inflict (unintentionally but knowingly) so much pain that you’re left battered, bruised and spent. And sometimes you find yourself in a position so vulnerable, your body, soul and all your imperfections so utterly exposed, that in your nakedness you become the angel’s tabula rasa.

I know one of these angels: His name is Kadek and he is my twentysomething… ummm.. massage therapist. But to call Kadek just a massage therapist is like saying that Michael Jackson was just a musician. It’s a misnomer because Kadek is a body healer of the highest order with hands of gold.

High Priest of Pain... + Angel in Disguise

Continuing the lineage of traditional Balinese healers, Kadek began to study the art and science of deep tissue massage and healing from his uncle – from the age of fifteen. If you lay a sarong-covered body face down on a table, he goes to work like a seasoned professional – with a deeply ingrained sense of intuition. Minutes later, working expertly top to bottom, he has it figured out: You probably fell on your left hip first. Your nerves are entrapped. Your left leg is not only shorter, but smaller too. The circulation to your foot is blocked. The trauma is still trapped in your body. He lays his hand on my head: You look happy on the outside, but there is still sadness inside of you – it’s because of the pain isn’t it?

He pokes and prods, pounds the bottom of my foot, kneads out knots, coaxes apart invisible adhesions up and down my body. My hips are his punching bag, so he lunges into them with force, trying to realign one with the other. Bracing himself against the wall and table, he yanks my left leg until I’m seeing stars. When I’m lying on my side, he has me stretched out as if I’m in the grips of a torture device, and still he exclaims: I wish I had a third arm. He pins me down to prevent my anticipated but involuntary kicking. By the next session, he’s found his ‘third’ hand; it’s his leg and he uses it for leverage, with audible gusto.

Sometimes the pain is so excessive that I stuff a chilled hand towel into my mouth to stifle sobs. It’s not for sissies, this whole-body deepest-tissue-you-never-knew-you-had kind of massage. In fact, Kadek is all about down and dirty healing, and nothing fazes him; the bruises all over my back, hips and buttocks a distinct reminder and remnant of his handiwork.

Yesterday was another of those days; he pushed and pulled and pummeled until I broke down and cried. He raised a frangipani to my nose – my painkiller, he calls it. But even in those moments of despair and sheer agony, I trust and have faith in Kadek; though embodied in this most unlikeliest of apparitions, he is most certainly an angel of healing. Because, though he would never admit it, along with his skill, passion and exertion, Kadek infuses this aching body with comfort, love and wisdom.

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