Need a Back Rub? Wait Until Monday, Please.

I have one more pet peeve to vent about. It’s not a super important one, because it doesn’t come up much anymore, but it used to and when it did, boy, was I annoyed.

When we lived in Lexington, I noticed a marked increase in the people I saw who rubbed each others’ backs in public places. Most often in church.

I’m relatively not a prude, and I’m not against public displays of affection. I think it’s sweet to see an older couple or two teenagers holding hands. Or an older person holding a teenager’s hand, but only if it’s clear they’re not dating. And I’m even OK with kissing and making out in public, as long as it’s in Italy and the people are very attractive.

But what was happening that bothered me - sickened me almost - was specifically back rubbing.

And I wasn’t the only one. My kids memorized the most flagrant back rubbers at our church and moved to another pew if one sat in front of them. My husband threatened to leave the faith altogether by sitting in the front pew. You heard me. I believe you can be excommunicated by sitting in the front row of a Catholic church, but it would have been worth burning in purgatory just to not have to watch the weekly Back Rubbers Not-So-Anonymous.

And if you think I’m exaggerating or I’m being too sensitive or that maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the mass, well, you’re wrong. Except for the last part. I actually wasn’t paying attention to the mass because the back rubbings were too distracting. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the hands and backs, and because I’m just a tiny bit OCD, I would try to pick out patterns in the rub swirls, scratching and shoulder squeezings.

There were two kinds of rubbings going on, neither of them good. One was the couples: Dating couples and married couples, but all heterosexual. Among the younger couples, it was mostly the men rubbing their girlfriends’ backs. Back and forth in wide sweeps and then little quick scratches. There is no way it was not irritating to the skin on those women, but they never gave him a push or yelled, “Knock it off!” or even squirmed in their seats. I tried to stop the rubbing and scratching by boring my eyeball-stare into the scene in front of me, but it never once worked. Not once single time. I don’t believe my eyes have any power at all, beyond seeing.

The older couples also included some female back rubbers, who draped their arms across the back of the pew and rubbed their husbands’ upper back and shoulders. None of this is the least bit religious, so it should not be happening.

But the couples’ back rubbing was not nearly as nauseating as the parent-child back rubbings. It’s pretty bad when you are wishing all the curses of Egypt on a mom, because she insists on rubbing her 8-year-old son’s back during the First Reading.

I have two scenes burned into my brain in permanent ink:  One was a woman who came to Christmas Eve mass and spent the entire service (and it’s a long ‘en; you Catholics know what I’m talking about) rubbing all three of her children’s backs, two at a time, both arms outstretched and alternating among the kids. It was entirely too much movement to be happening in the pews. I was so consumed with watching how she was managing to keep it fair and equal among the three kids, that I heard not one word of the entire church service. I was exhausted by the consecration and then she - are you ready for this? - reached up inside the back of her son’s polo shirt and rubbed his bare skin for at least three minutes.

“What is the matter with the Catholics in Kentucky?” I whispered to my kids. “If this isn’t a sin, then I’m going to have to rethink the whole confession thing kit and caboodle.”

The other incident happened when it was a particularly busy Sunday night mass. We sat down behind some identified non-back-rubbers, but then they scooted down to make room for a family  - Dad, Mom, tiny little toddler boy, and elementary-school-age girl.

“Uh oh,” I stage whispered to my kids. This mom was a back rubbing empress if I ever prejudged one. Sure enough, the girl picked up her mom’s arm and placed it on her back. That must’ve been the family signal meaning I Want You to Cross the Line of Decorum and Rub My Back in Church Again. So the rubbing began and continued for a while. Until the girl reached around and took her mom’s hand, arm draped across her shoulders, and sucked her mother’s thumb.

Someone in my family - possibly me - let out a noise.

That was the last straw. Fortunately, we moved and didn’t have to choose between continuing to go to mass every Sunday or commandeering the ambo and yelling into the microphone, "You all keep your hands to yourselves!” We all kept an eye out in Florida for flagrant back rubbing, but haven’t seen it. Praise the Lord.


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