Icy Straits, Alaska: I think this is a year of firsts for me. Just before New Year’s, Andre and Amber and the kids took Dan and me to Disney World – the first time I’d ever been there in my life. Today was another first – my first massage. I have had one of those five minute chair massages before, courtesy of Sydney Liebman and a charity event I was working, but this was the first time I ever had a real, bona fide massage, courtesy of a lovely woman with very red lipstick named Sasé. Dan and Alicia signed me up, and since you have to pay even if you don’t show up, I showed up.
It was terrific! The ‘treatment room’ was a small, wedge-shaped room that had two beautiful windows looking out onto the ocean and the Icy Straits, where the ship was about to dock for the day. I answered all the medical questions, talked with Sasé about what my needs were, and got undressed and slipped under a blanket with my face in that funny little cushion with a hole in the center. The music was soft and maybe a bit Asian in composition, and once Sasé put a warm towel over my eyes, it was almost like a surprise hot air balloon ride an old boss had arranged for my college graduation (I was old even then). There wasn’t anything I could do to change it, so I just let go.
The massage lasted an hour, and it was so nice to just have someone whose goal was to relax and rejuvenate me for that time that I enjoyed every minute. If I could afford to have a massage twice a week, I think I might actually succumb to this hedonistic and very selfish pleasure because it was so nice to just let my mind wander wherever it wanted, and I felt so relaxed and calm and focused afterwards. Dan had a massage at the same time, and he said his second massage had eliminated almost eighty percent of his joint pain, so I’m hoping I can get him to do one more before we go home; who knows, maybe the third one will eliminate the other twenty percent of his discomfort. I don’t know when or if I’ll have a chance for another massage, but I sure won’t fight it.
After a quick breakfast and a chance to sit and relax by the pool while the kids swam and had not one, but two outdoor pools and at least four hot tubs all to themselves (everyone else had already departed the ship for a day in port at Hoonah on the Icy Straits (population 716 or 850, depending upon who you ask). Our day’s excursion wasn’t scheduled until 4:30, so when we did get off the ship, we had a chance to play on the island and walk the beautiful nature trail before another first for me – driving an ATV on logging roads littered with bear scat. Dan and Alicia each had a child passenger, but I was driving solo, and it was a blast!
We learned a lot about the Tlingit tribe (I hope I spelled that right, but Thomas, our guide, told us that the language had only begun to be written in 1971, so there was no such thing as a misspelled word), and we got to hear some fascinating stories about brown bears and the history of the Tlingits and the town of Hoonah, which is the largest of the three small towns on the island we visited today. It was a beautiful ride, and it helped to once and for all answer the age old question, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” Based upon what I saw today, the answer is a resounding, “Nope!” The evidence is overwhelming that bear actually shit on the road instead of in the woods because the roads had bear scat littering the sides and centers of the road through the entire climb up the mountain.
The day ended late, and we were lucky to be seated with our favorite dining room waiter, Wilmex and our sommelier, Raj, who made such a point of making us feel special and taking care of us, even after a long day when we all looked pretty raggedy and shopworn. Raj filled my wine glass and Dan’s before I left for the evening, and I’m enjoying the last of it as I finish these words. Ruel is our room attendant, and every afternoon that we’re here, we come back to a small plate of canapés, and every night, he makes a special effort to make sure there is a chocolate on the pillow. I know it’s his job, but he’s so kind about it, and every time he sees me coming down the hall, he makes a point of using his key to open my door, which just makes me feel so valued.
One of the best things about this week besides the extraordinarily breathtaking scenery and chance to sit on a balcony drinking wine while I write, is the chance to relax and think about what I want to do for a change. Sometimes I notice that I am so busy trying to make sure everyone else is happy that I forget to give myself a vote. Maybe it’s the second glass of wine talking or maybe it’s the after-effects of a whole hour of having someone whose job was to make me feel relaxed, special, and important, but this vacation is extra special for me because it’s making me value myself a little more. And maybe, if I’m lucky and smart, when I get home and get back into the routine of regular life, I’ll remember to take better care of myself because it’s not really selfish and self-serving, it’s a way of admitting that I actually do have value and need to take care of my own body and soul before I can be of service to others.