I have this secret about me that I’ve always been hesitant to share for fear of the social consequences that inevitably come about at such a reveal. I’m ticklish. I mean, like, I’m very ticklish—arguably, unreasonably so. Like I have an unhealthy, debilitating fear of all things feathery and fluffy. I hate soft, cuddly things so much so that after a shower, I forgo the towel and dry off with sandpaper instead.
And now, I fear, that I’ve passed on this incurable condition to my son. I never thought being ticklish was genetic. But I also didn’t think newborns could be so ticklish. Alas, he has inherited my burden; suffering from generation to generation, which sin of the father I do not know. I pray that he will be strengthened in the years to come as others seek to take advantage of this ailment. Humans, after all, are anti-fragile. We must experience the purifying crucible of trials and tribulations if we are to become who we are meant to be. Stand firm and courageous, my son, as I have had to do…
Such was a time as this, years ago, in a faraway land of Pad Thai and spring rolls that I overcame a significant trauma: a full-body Thai massage (loud, ominous music plays in the background).
One summer for a college program, I led a team of high school students on a mission trip to Thailand. We were mostly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, working with different student ministries, teaching English camps, and serving in mountain village orphanages. At the end of our monthly stay, the national missionaries that we were partnering with took us all out for a day in the city. We experienced many of the fun and joyous activities of both locals and tourists: riding elephants, haggling in the market, drinking Thai tea, eating locusts, finding pirated DVDs, and eating at McDonald’s. Don’t worry, I’m just joking about some of those. Of course, we didn’t eat McDonald’s—this was a mission trip after all.
But before the night was done, my team asked the local missionaries if there was one more thing that they should all do before leaving the country. One unique Thai experience to take home with them in their cherished memories forever. After thinking for a bit, they said, “For the time and cost, you should all get an authentic Thai massage and/or pedicure!”
Immediately, I protested, “No thanks! Y’all enjoy that and I’ll stand guard outside to make sure no one steals our bootlegged merchandise.” I should have known better. The team of irritating teenagers immediately started to taunt and bully me. Sometimes, being a leader means doing inspirational and sacrificial things. But in my experience, most of the time, being a leader means doing ridiculous and embarrassing things.
Eventually, I coalesced and accepted my fate. I cannot exaggerate when I say it was pure torture. It was supposed to be on the condition that I just got a normalish back massage. I didn’t want someone touching my feet or putting weird oil on me or anything. But oh, how self-deceived I was. The whole team was so excited. Some of them got full pedicures and some of them tried other bizarre spa treatments. Afterwards, they all expressed such refreshing delight at the pampering and relaxation they received.
But me, the horror, oh the horror. Mind you, this was one of those institutions where you weren’t allowed to wear your own clothes. Everyone had to change into these designated pajama uniforms. It felt like prison clothes. As I walked with a few of my team to one of the massage parlors, I thought we’d all be in the same open room with chairs. Looking back on it all, I believe it was a cruel conspiracy against me arranged by the missionaries. As my team was seated, I was coaxed farther into the depths of hades to a back hall and then a back room where I was instructed to lay down on a mat. Just moments later, a sadistic employee of torment entered the room of which the cruelest war interrogators would cringe. There was no escape from the five foot, ninety pound executioner with her iron, spear nails and torture death hands (and feet, oh yes, and they stand and jump on you). I’ll save you from anymore imagery. Although the imagination is probably the most terrifying. I shouted for help. I cringed and flailed like a fish suffocating on a sun-beaten concrete slab. I pleaded for mercy but there was none as I was twisted into a pretzel and contorted into an abomination of humanity. It became one the most spiritual moments of my life as I sought God’s forgiveness for any and all of my transgressions.
I literally could not stop laughing for the entire thirty minutes (felt like thirty years). And the lady—well, she just thought it was hilarious. Half-way through, I don’t even think she was trying to massage anymore. I think she just switched over to straight-up tickling. I could hear from the other rooms my teammates laughing as well. Death by a thousand cuticles.
But I have survived to tell the tale. My son, listen to me, heed my warnings: never, ever under any circumstances repeat your father’s errors. Never get a Thai massage… so that you may live a long, prosperous, and blessed life.