By Joe Rector
Feeling low? Feeling lost? Feeling left out? All of us hit bottom several times in our lives. It’s during those blue periods that we most crave something to soothe the soul, to find a healing balm for the pain. I’m pretty sure that’s just what a back rub is. No, I’m not talking about the back rub that a masseur gives as he works to knead muscles in order to bring on relaxation and take away pain. The kind that I have in mind is gentler and comes from the hands of those we love.
When I was a kid, my temper too often got the best of me. It had something to do with being called “Round Man” because of my excessive weight and “Bucky” because of a terrible overbite that kept my top teeth protruding through my lips. I’d explode over some small thing, and Mother would make me sit at the kitchen table until I could regain my composure.
The best medicine for those times when the world could go to hell for all I cared was my Mother’s hand rubbing my back. Her hands weren’t soft; too many hours of yard work kept them rough and calloused. Still, she’d sit silently and rub back and forth across my shoulders. It made things somehow okay. Just knowing that she had taken time out of a schedule filled with too many tasks and duties helped to calm the anger that came over the sometimes cruel things that others said or did.
Years later, it was my time to be the one to give comfort to my children. I loved to hold them when they were around the age of 3-5. Then, they would sit beside me or on my lap, and I rubbed their backs and talk to them. Their skin was smooth, and it surely was one of God’s most wonderful blessings to this parent. If they were crying, the back rub helped to calm the hurt from a scrape or ear ache, and if they were fussy because of being tired, it relaxed them until they fell asleep and leaned heavily on me.
At other times, I tried to console my children when they tasted defeat. A loss of an important ball game or the failure to make a team or be accepted into an organization might have booted them in the behinds. While I wanted to rage against those who denied them, I knew doing so would change nothing. So, instead I just stood there, quiet for one of the few times in my life, and rubbed my hand across their backs. I hoped it would help in some way to take away some of the sting of disappointment.
Sometimes those back rubs have come in times of grief. So many wonderful people have wrapped an arm around us to offer condolences over the losses of loved ones. At some point during the conversation, they gently rubbed their hands across backs as they reassure us of their help in getting through the worst of the pain. Those hands moved across shoulders as if doing so could somehow erase the pain and emptiness that came from the loss.
Through a lifetime of marriage, I’ve on occasion offered a back rub to my wife. She’s faced plenty of rough times. Some came with the passing of family; others came when our children left home; still, others occurred when evil people committed a wrong against her. I’m a man, so I want to “fix” things, but too often that isn’t possible. That’s when the best I can do is offer a gentle back rub as she cries or despairs or rages. I hope it does help.
This life can throw us plenty of pain. Most of it affects our emotional health. No prescription from a doctor can heal that kind of hurt, but just placing a hand on another’s back and rubbing seems to offer some comfort. I believe that no better medicine exists.