“Just to let you know,” the massage therapist warned over the phone, “I’m blind.”
She arrived to my house by taxi, and as she pulled up, she looked out the glass toward me as if she could see me…even though she could not. The art of the gesture stunned me.
“Hello!” I greeted, wanting to be helpful without being condescending—a line I wasn’t sure how not to cross.
As she exited the car, the taxi driver—a shy, round thirty-something man named Minor—automatically went to the trunk to pull out her table, her CD player, and her rice-filled heating pillow like clockwork. Together, the two walked into the house, Georgina leading the way with her cane, and Minor following closely behind her. I would be gripping onto him for dear life, I remember thinking.
I led them to the room we had set up for the occasion—the occasion being that I had just gotten done with an exhausting business trip that had left my spine crying for peace and love and A GIANT DELICIOUS MASSAGE. (Apparently the combination of high heels, heavy bags and late nights with a laptop is a real back-fuck. New word.)
Inside, she insisted on preparing the room (and setting up her table) alone.
“Don’t you worry about me,” she told me in Spanish. “You just worry about getting relaxed. This is time for you to be calm.”
I sat in the living room, waiting to be called. I was simultaneously excited and pensive; despite the number of massages I’ve had, this was an all-new experience. Will it be easy? Hard? Awkward? Amazing? Finally, she sang out like a blue bird:
“Señoraaaaa Ashleyyyyy. Ya estoy listaaaaa!”
I entered the room and took off my clothes, where Georgina the blind massage therapist turned her head even though she couldn't see me. She then listened to me rustle and shimmy my squatty little sausage body onto the table, and at just the right time, draped the cloth over my nude body.
I felt the heat of her hands knead the knots in my shoulders; first delicately, and then with more targeted pressure, applied in the most expert of ways. She then cupped a pool of what smelled like spiced cinnamon fragranced oil in her palm and held it for me to inhale, which she found by grazing my nose with the back of her thumb first.
The first half of the massage was filled with a gorgeous, peaceful silence—I typically try to let these kinds of experiences be sacred quiet time for me—but before long, I found myself longing to ask her so many questions:
Do you wonder what color hair I have?
What color skin do you imagine yourself touching?
Are you able to tell that I was an athlete?
What’s most surprising for you when you first touch someone that you cannot see?
And, the more I thought, the more I began to contemplate the experience she was having—versus the one I was. The questions in my mind went farther:
Were you always blind?
What do you miss most about seeing?
How has it changed you?
And, what gives you inspiration?
I argued with myself in my head for what seemed like an eternity.
No, don’t say anything. Let her feel normal.
But maybe acknowledging her experience, rather than ignoring it out of discomfort, is validating to her. Maybe she wants to tell her story.
But…maybe she doesn’t.
Would it be rude?
How can I broach the topic in a way that will feel supportive, rather than nosy?
Ultimately, I decided that the experience was so unusual; so unique, that not inquiring would be more rude, like ignoring an elephant sitting on your back. (Which, for the record, would be SO impolite.) I didn’t know whether it was the right decision…until she began to tell me her story.
She seemed so relieved to have someone ask…and not try to avoid the elephant in the room, like I imagine so many clients must do. In fact, she seemed genuinely excited to tell her story; like it had been bottled up for 100 years inside her.
And do you know what Georgina the blind massage therapist told me?
She told me that her blindness happened slowly.
That her sight began to deteriorate at the age of 35.
That the only thing she could see now was the brightness of the light.
That her 8 year old son doesn’t mind helping.
And that the most surprising thing about being blind was that it didn’t impair her vision—it enhanced it.
That she might not be able to see the physical objects around her, but that her sight is better than ever.
That her ability to sense a person’s feelings, their presence, they, themselves, as people…is the greatest gift.
That she used to use her eyes to be able to know a person, but now, she uses voice.
“Voice,” she told me, “is the equivalent of the way a person smiles.”
We kept talking. I was fascinated.
“You know,” Georgina said. “If you put a bunch of blind people in a room, they’ll all find their tribe? You see, most of the time, when you put a bunch of people in a room together, they judge other people based on their physical appearance, and it’s incredibly limiting. But when you put a bunch of blind people in a room together, you know how they find their tribe? By chemistry. Human chemistry is powerful. And I’m so blessed, because now I know that I’m making friends with people I should truly be friends with—and not for their social class, or their appearance, or whether or not they ‘look’ like someone I’d be friends with. It’s a very freeing experience.”
And as Georgina effortlessly packed up her table, without any assistance, you know what else she told me?
“You know, I still go to see the sunset.”
“Wow, really?” I had responded in awe.
“Yes,” she said. “I don’t have to see beauty in order to experience it. I love sunsets.”
And with every word that came out of her mouth, I was humbled. In the span of 60 minutes, Georgina had taught me more about what it is to be human than many humans learn in 60 years. But you know what I learned most from her?
Not allowing blindness to make her blind.
Not allowing something like sight be all she sees.
And not allowing herself to play the victim (because it sure shit would have been easy).
How many of us run around complaining that it’s too hard? That being in business for yourself is hard? That LIFE IS JUST SO HARD? *cue hand of, oh, everybody*
But, how much of it do we allow?
The truth is, we’ve all got limitations. But it’s how much we allow those limitations to limit us…that makes the difference. And just like most things, it all goes back to perspective.
And maybe Georgina the blind massage therapist…has the best view of the sunset of all.