• Jennifer Strube

Them Bones Don’t Lie!


Forget Tolstoy. Put down Robert Frost. If you want true poetic metaphors, rattle your bones.

That’s right. To plunge the depths of true literary magnificence, you need look no further than your own osteopathy. 

I was reminded of the body’s literary genius last week when a short Mexican man approached me with a nightgown and led me into a dark room. It’s not every day you get pressed against a cold metal wall by a savvy foreigner, as he garnishes you with a mod yellow radiation-diverting bib. I felt honored. I do love a good photoshoot, but somehow I don’t think x-rays are Instagram friendly. 

Hashtag Skeletor. 

I asked the lab technician if I could smile and he whispered, “Don’t breathe.” And then, like all sultry foreigners, he left. Me standing. Sweating. And fresh pressed against a cold wall.

Thankfully, he came around, as I’m not very good at this whole “holding-my-breath-in-a-radiation-bib” gig. It’s beyond my darkroom expertise. Ahem.

Xrays led to physical therapy lead to blah blah. Don’t ever get in a minor car accident (which I did a few weeks ago). The more minor the accident, the more subtle the body reactions. Whiplash is a funny injury. It’s like the IBS of car accident consequences. It’s the “we don’t know exactly what it is and you could be fine or your could still be flushing your chiropractic bills down the loo in 5 years” kind of injury. Without the actual need to run to the toilet. (Sorry IBSers. Much love. As a Celiac, I got your back).

To move away from bathroom glory, whiplash is the joker of the Shakespearean play. It leaves you with a riddle so you have to pay attention. It draws it’s sword but doesn’t strike you, so others can’t gawk at your bandaid bravery. It’s subtle. Whiplash enters (Stage Left) juggling your health on a unicycle while you parade (Stage Right) like a Stepford wife in etiquette school – erect posture, frozen head, stiff smile, and lifting from the knees. Don’t look up or down, shoulders back, steady grin and be sure to keep those good ol’ prescriptions in your purse.

I’m not much for pills. I prefer more inconspicuous cures like the lingering wreak of Ben Gay. Granted, I’m no masochist either (I gave that up for Lent. Last year.) But pain can be a good reminder of our limitations.

Body says: This hurts. 

Translation: Don’t do that anymore.

I’ve been working on heeding that advise in my personal life for years. But that is the brilliance of the body. 

Our body is the capital B Bard. Yes, we all have an inner Willy. It’s true. Sometimes he comes as the joker and sometimes as the cross-dressed playwright himself. Either way, you must pay attention and do your best to interpret. He’s obstinate at times. You do have to wonder why he still speaks in archaic language, drumming along to your heartbeat in iambic pentameter. He’s sarcastic and crude. He makes you sweat and pout and writhe.

(You see why I’m calling “him” a HE…)

But honestly, whenever I think I am an author, I’ve gotten it all wrong.

If I give my hand a pen, sometimes I’ll get writer’s block. I can stare at my pen. And stare at my hand. And wonder why the ink isn’t spurning the next Odyssey. And then spurn the pen.

But perhaps I’m starting at the wrong place. I’m giving too much credence to the pen and too little clout to the muscles driving the hand. The pen works for the hand. Not the other way around.

In poetic terms, the pen is just the body’s bi(o)tch.

The body is the author. The body remembers. The body anticipates. The body holds the story. The body never lies. Our skin has has absorbed every second of our existence, even when our mind shoves it out. At best, we remember 7 things at once. The body absorbs 70 x 7 things per millisecond. And keeps going.

Our body whispers to us to pay more attention. When we ignore it, it shouts. Pain is the body’s temper tantrum. Slow down, it pleads. Rest. Take extra care. It slaps us out of our mental stories and our longing for Platonic hierarchies (I think ergo I is) and returns us to our aging skin and whiplashed bones.

Which is how we entered the world anyway. We breathe therefore we are. 

My doctor told me I am hypermobile. Hyperflexible. Hypereverything. Which I always considered a positive. He didn’t. “You need stability and strength,” he said. “Flexibility is great but too much can cause you to break.”

I find it interesting that I now have doctor’s orders to stabilize my life. That my medical records read hypermobile. To me, this means my body has started writing my story again. The last two years of my life, I have been hypermobile. Literally. I’ve lived in four different houses ranging from California horse ranches to a Balinese thatched roof hut to a 27th floor high-rise apartment in China. This week last year, my bank was in NY, my rent was in California, my job was in China, my British partner was in Indonesia, and I was lost in Hong Kong trying to secure a visa. In the last 365 days, I’ve hauled my suitcase to seven different countries in attempts to write books and relieve school debt. My definition of home has gotten very large. 

And it’s time now to stabilize.

The very words, as they dripped from the doctor’s lips, put a shutter in my spine. I’m good at mobility. Reducing movement is not my strong point. It’s how I pay attention. It’s how I relieve stress. It’s how I was designed. The physical therapist, seeing my concern, continued on with his instructions. “Don’t fret. Stability won’t take away your flexibility. That you won’t lose. It’s far too ingrained in your musculature. It will simply give your flexibility the support it needs so you can keep being mobile without injury.”

I took a deep inhale. That I could deal with. That made sense. Flexibility without support can cause your head to spin. Support without flexibility means you never can turn your head to see anything outside of your own perspective. We need both. My work is the stability. So, for now, I have settled in – to one neck exercise, to one sleeping pillow. Heck, to one country, one city, one home, one job, one creative venture. At times, I’ve wondered if I’ll lose the flexibility. If stability is the tradeoff – if you have to trade in your passport when you set up a permanent American address. But perhaps I don’t have to. In fact, the doctor said so. (And doctors are smart.) The bones will remember. The muscles don’t lie. Everything seeks balance. For me, this is the season for strength, after which my new neck can be a mobile as it wants to be. What is your body telling you today?

Dear friends, let us listen to our bones. They don’t lie. See your pains as messages – not annoyances to medicate but as metaphors to heed.  The poetry of your skin is the elixir you need.

Some quotes for the road:

A trembling in the bones may carry a more convincing testimony 

than the dry documented deductions of the brain.  

~Llewelyn Powers

What we feel and think and are is to a great extent determined 

by the state of our ductless glands and viscera.  

~Aldous Huxley

Few of us have lost our minds, but most of us have long ago lost our bodies.  ~Ken Wilbur

Sweat your prayers, dance your pain, and move on. 

~Gabrielle Roth

Be strong then, and enter into your own body; 

there you have a solid place for your feet. 

~Kabir


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