Haven the German Shepherd and Ruby the Red-Eared Slider are friends. You might think a dog and an aquatic turtle wouldn’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong. These two are fiercely independent, have a penchant for treats, and demonstrate the kind of single-minded perseverance that I want to have when I grow up.
In her younger day, Haven competed with the large male shepherds in her world and often won. When she first came to our home at two years old, she didn’t know how to swim. We’d take her and our big guy to a reservoir to swim after a bright orange retriever dummy - a hard plastic tubular object that floated. Within several days, Haven learned to swim fast enough to reach the dummy nose to nose with her buddy. If he got his mouth around the dummy first, she’d slam his head into the water with her dainty paw until he gave it up. She’d then grab it and swim it in. All of this was accompanied by Haven’s resounding Xena: Warrior Princess war cries.
Ruby’s brand of perseverance takes the form of scaling rocks and sprint work in the summertime grass. She has some mysterious attraction to the hot scratchy asphalt of the driveway, and will ignore the cool green grass she’s going through to get there. When she approaches the driveway, I pick her up and set her down in the grass a good distance away. She heads off again, at a faster pace. We do this over and over. Eventually she’ll look over her shoulder/shell, see me coming, and will literally run away from me. That girl can move. Who knew turtles could sprint?
Haven has very definitive ideas about our walks, and every week that passes in this, her old age of 14 years, she becomes more adamant about which direction she will and will not go. I’ve found that verbal coaxing does not work - literally falling as it does on deaf ears. Treats, however, do work, and bribing in this way has convinced her to let me occasionally navigate our strolls. She will also decide that it is time to sit down and she’ll look at me patiently, expectantly, until I pull out a cookie. She has me well-trained.
When I take Ruby out of her tank for her dryland training, she turtle-marches over to where I’m standing and looks up at me, demanding that I return her to her tank immediately if not sooner, and “don’t forget the treat.” Ruby will spend an inordinate amount of time trying for the slice of cucumber on her basking area. Now, she normally can climb up on her basking rock just fine. But when she sees the cucumber she has a panic-attack and frantically climbs in all the wrong places in her desperation to get that cucumber NOW. She’ll get partway up and then do a spectacular backflip into the water - over and over again. Notice the pattern here?
Haven has not ever seen Ruby, as Ruby came on the scene after Haven lost her sight. But Haven can smell her. And Ruby can see Haven from the security of her tank. I’m guessing that in the way animals have, they are aware of one another and have probably picked up on their mutual feistiness.
Here’s why I think they are friends: Haven will lay down near the tank, and rest her head against the glass, right where Ruby’s little head is. If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.
Back in ‘99 I received my 1000-hour Massage Certification from the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT), and several years later earned my Sports and Orthopedic Massage Certification. In the late 90s BCMT was ranked top five in the nation, a great school with excellent instructors. One instructor in particular stands out: Elaine.
The first thing I noticed about Elaine were her hands. She was not a tall or large woman. But her hands were so thick with muscle it looked like she had on a pair of baseball catcher’s mitts. When Elaine walked into the room, you knew you were going to laugh, and you knew you were going to learn. A lot. She hailed from New York City, and was of Puerto Rican heritage. She had dark curly hair cut short, lovely olive skin, and definitely could have been (maybe had been) a stand-up comedian. She was a classy version of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna.
Elaine had some nifty tips. If you accidentally caused a client pain during the session, apologize immediately, and erase the mistake by rubbing that painful area with your hand. Brilliant, because when you rub an area that hurts you take advantage of the pain gate theory, wherein touch signals to the brain beat out the pain signals at the “gate”. She would walk around and feel our nails - each and every finger - to be sure no sharp edges were digging into our clients. She taught us to look at shoes - “just sittin’ over there looking at you while you’re working on those feet” to pick up on specific areas of the foot and lower leg that needed attention.
From Elaine I learned about massage not just as a practice, but as a philosophy. I learned things that influenced me 25 years ago, and continue to guide me now. Some of the most impactful:
You can create healing with strong hands.Strong and flexible hands support good work and longevity in this profession. I often visualize Elaine’s strong paws as I work, creating bloodflow, space, allowing for and creating change in the body.
A sense of humor gets you through.
Elaine’s wit allowed for learning to be fun in the massage room and the classroom, and is a reminder to me even in the most difficult of circumstances. Levity is healing.
Focus on the possibilities rather than the limitations.
Seeing a client for what can be (strength, pain reduction, mobility, relaxation) rather than stopping short at current limitations like scoliosis, Parkinson’s, sports injuries, surgical recovery, etc., opens up the possibility of change, of healing. When we did our own case studies for Sports and Ortho, the evidence, the results, were right there. Just because you don’t completely reverse or cure a condition doesn’t mean you haven’t allowed for transformation.
Sadly, Elaine passed away 11 or 12 years ago. We lost a great person when she went. It helps a little to know that her legacy lives on in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of massage therapists and clients too. I am confident all those whose lives she touched still hear her voice, and feel her guidance, just as I do.
It is January in the mountains and it is bitter-cold and snowy. There are hardy people out there in shorts - I saw one just the other day. I was inside my car and had way more on than he had, running down the road in shorts and a t-shirt. I was born in Baltimore, but I was raised in Southern California, and not a smidge of cold-hardiness survived my upbringing in that subtropical climate.
One year when I was home from college, my parents and I hatched a plan to spend Christmas in the snowy mountains of Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. Though my parents suggested packing a warm jacket and some good boots, I stuck with my own 80’s style: a leather bomber jacket and some slick-soled fashion boots.
We arrived Christmas morning, excited to stay in the picturesque little cabin nestled in the pines. The cabin was definitely quaint. It also had some endearing features: spaces between floorboards so you could look straight down to see the arctic tundra, a hot-water heater the size of a pint-jar, and frigid temps which allowed the ice in your glass to remain unmelted for days. Busy threading popcorn and cranberries to adorn the little Christmas tree we’d brought, it was easy to ignore fingers numb with the chill. Come to think of it, the numb fingers were convenient for the occasional needle-stick. When the freeze seeped into our bones, though, it was time to head out to get some wood for the stone-cold fireplace.
It seemed there’d been a run on the firewood at the one grocery store in town. We managed to snag the last sorry bundle and tucked it in the car like a treasure. My parents then got the bright idea to go for a hike. We’d get in some exercise, warm up, enjoy the scent of pine trees in the crisp mountain air, and the crunch of fresh snow underfoot. Well, that did sound pretty nice.
My parents hopped out of the car at the trailhead, looking parent-like in their bulky coats and sturdy hiking boots. They also looked warm. I began to feel a teensy bit underdressed. They and their appropriate clothing choices skipped off down the trail while I lagged behind. I could feel hypothermia setting in, although I didn’t know what that was. I couldn’t skip, run or even walk down the trail as I, in my cute elf boots, was having traction issues. I didn’t know what traction was either.
So, here I was, in somewhat of a crisis: my fantasy of traipsing down the forest path, snowflakes gently falling through the evergreens, was not matching up with the current reality. I was cold, getting colder, and stuck in one spot on the trail, unable to move forward. I felt quite sorry for myself. My parents were way up ahead on the other side of a little meadow. They seemed to be having a marvelous time jaunting around in the snow.
Suddenly, in the midst of my pity-party, there was an explosion of raw, glacial cold on my exposed throat. It slid roughly down my chest like shards of winter glass, and lodged in the front of my bra. My mouth opened in a silent scream of shock and pain. What had just happened?
Across the meadow my parents stood like statues, dead-silent, staring, also in open-mouthed surprise. It seemed that my dad, having a little fun, had lobbed a gigantic snowball in my direction, never dreaming of the fatal precision of his aim. They weren’t sure what to do - cheer for that amazing pitch or comfort their daughter in the midst of a grand mal meltdown. So they did a little of both, in between giggles they unsuccessfully tried to suppress. Honestly, the odds of that bulls-eye was a snowball’s chance in Hell.
I’m happy to report that, 36 years later, I have forgiven my dad. Warmth wins out over style every time when it comes to my current clothing choices. Our Christmas at the cabin is a great story, remembered in front of the warm fire. And that was one hell of a snowball toss.
Ever notice that when you are having a bad day, or are so overly irritated with your significant other, co-worker, sibling, best friend, etc., a laugh can change the entire day and/or situation? You feel better in your body, the crankiness dissipates, you reconnect with that person, and you feel human again.
Laughter does that. It bonds us, benefitting relationships and our own sense of well-being. It has a host of physical benefits: burns calories, reduces stress, releases endorphins, increases immune system function, and supports our heart health. Having laughter in our lives benefits our mental and emotional health by reducing anxiety, increasing relaxation, and supporting resilience. Wow. If this were a prescription drug we’d be in line now.
In this article about the benefits of laughter, there is a great list of ideas about how to bring more laughter into your life. Spending time with funny people, doing something silly, and sharing a joke or funny story are some of the suggestions.
Here’s something to get you started: a video of a juggler explaining the benefits of laughter - funny and silly! Maybe taking up juggling might be one of your new hobbies!
I’m lucky to have grown up with some silliness in my own family. Don’t get my mom and dad started with my daughter about the Snallygaster. My Grandmother Martha used to tell slightly smutty jokes with such cool elegance she would have had the queen giggling into her teacup. And my Grandmother Bootsie, with her incredible resilience and a twinkle in her eye, offered me this wisdom gleaned from her lifetime of physical challenges: “Well, you can laugh or you can cry. So you may as well laugh.”
(Originally published July 14, 2022)
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT