PHILANTHROPY

“Serving others IS the success.”   -Rob Buckley

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time wondering what my purpose was in life, as far as helping my fellow human beings. After a lot of experimentation, I ended up not having any particular religious sect I could dedicate my charity to. The humanitarian aspects of all religions seemed viable, but the doctrines, on the other hand, seemed to my mind interchangeable. How could I support wholeheartedly one group’s ideas if they contradicted all the others? I was seeking a secular way to help people, and I wanted it to be something connected to my chosen path in life–the path of massage. Sponsoring children through Childreach and similar organizations is definitely worthwhile, but I was looking for something that would strike me on a deeply personal level, like the religion I didn’t have, and get me to MOVE. And, as I relate in the final chapters of TOUCHY SUBJECTS

That’s when I read an article about a guy doing something completely different with massage, and I mean different in the sense of crazy. Absolutely nuts. His name is Rob Buckley, an American massage therapist who’d gone to Nepal seven years earlier with no money and few contacts, and opened a massage school there to train untouchables to become touch professionals. Now, like most Americans, I didn’t know much about untouchables, but I did know they were the poorest of the poor, on the bottommost rungs of an ancient ladder of prejudice and oppression called the caste system, and that, in general, you weren’t supposed to touch them. So how, I wondered, did Buckley expect to turn them into massage therapists? This guy had some major cojones. He’d faced death threats, Maoist rebels, human traffickers and unimaginable poverty to carry out this dream of his. For someone like me—ensconced in my little bubble of massage privilege in the first world, riding around in private jets rubbing tanning butter into the skin of pampered MILFs—it was about as far away from everyday reality as you could get, but something about it called out to me. That, I said to myself, is one ballsy massage motherfucker. That’s the kind of guy I’d like to get to know.

So I looked up his website, Himalayan Healers, and sent him a message offering to donate some of my massage training books for his students. I also clicked on the “donate” button, committing myself to supporting his cause for the next year. The cost? Five dollars a month. Within a day, he wrote back, overjoyed—thrilled—that a big spender like me had taken the time to help. “Namaste!” he wrote. “We would LOVE to receive any help you can offer!” Every sentence he wrote was either punctuated with an exclamation point or sounded like it should be. “Is this guy for real?” I thought. “Is he psychologically unbalanced?” In his email, he went into detail about how he’d started the school, which was the first massage school in Nepal, from scratch and invested seven years as a volunteer to build up the staff and the program. Then, at the end, he threw this in: “If you were interested in visiting,” he wrote, “you’re always welcome at any time! Exclamation point!”

Hmmmm. The easiest thing to do, of course, would be to politely decline this invitation, or just ignore it. For some reason, though, I took it seriously. Something inside was tugging at me. It was a feeling, an emotion, that this guy had stirred up in me with his insane, quixotic plan to train untouchables to do massage in Nepal, his infinite optimism in spite of the impossible odds he faced and the risks he was taking—risks that would’ve sent me home whimpering, my tail between my legs, long before seven years, or even seven weeks, had passed.

So, I said yes, and I bought a ticket to go visit this crazy massage dreamer in Kathmandu.

Before I left on my trip, I began studying up on Nepal. This was a place where people were so desperate that they paid traffickers to take their children away to protect them from Maoist forces sweeping the country. Many of these children ended up as slaves, and many of them became prostitutes. The young Nepali women offering “massage” in India and Nepal were almost always one or the other, and sometimes both.

Making matters worse was the caste system. Although officially banned for decades, it’s still very much alive with 160 million “untouchables” living in India and Nepal today, each one of them brought up to believe that contact with their skin would “pollute” normal people, requiring immediate and extensive bathing rituals. That was a lot of people who needed to be turned into massage therapists, and I wondered if this guy Buckley had his head screwed on right. How could training a few of these people to do massage make any difference at all in the world? And once they were trained, then what? Where would they work? Who would allow these untouchables to touch them?

These and other questions were still swirling in my mind when, three weeks later, I found myself on a plane, veering west over the Kathmandu valley. As I sat there, watching the massive jagged towers of the Himalayas out my window, I still didn’t know exactly why I’d decided to come. I had no simple explanation to give my family or friends back home, to explain why I wanted to, no had to, make this trip. I couldn’t even explain it to myself, at least not intellectually. But there, sitting in that plane, I felt it and I was able, finally, to put a word to this feeling that had motivated me all along as I plied my trade as a masseur.

The name of the chapter is LOVE, and that of course is the feeling that was motivating me in my massage journey, like it motivates most of us on whatever journey it is we’re taking.

I wish you the best on your own journey toward love.

 

namaste

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