It was all very well for a bronze-armored hero to go striding manfully up the mountain above the Greek village of Delphi to demand the oracle prophesy about the outcome of his quest.

It was a good bit tougher on the oracle. She had to climb out on a stool above a crevasse in the earth (I envision ladders and a rickety, three-legged hash job with a tiny seat over an abyss, and the kissing of a St. Christopher medal (not really) before every single reading). Then she’d breathe in the fumes and vapors and smoke coming from the bowels of the earth (no doubt praying that she wouldn’t get dizzy or faint or fall in this time either).

And according to every damned antique or modern retelling of the story, she would then inevitably prophesy with absolute accuracy but in language so convoluted that she would be completely misunderstood, and it wouldn’t be until the bronze-armored hero lay dead at their feet that his friends would laugh at how badly they’d misinterpreted her forecast.

“Oh – I get it, Pectinius! SHARPER than a lion’s claw!”

“You’re right, Adductor Magnus! How could we have missed that? Ho, ho!”

(The names of my mythical friends are Ancient Roman, not Ancient Greek, in nature; I select them because they are the names of muscles in my right thigh that are wont to laugh at my foolishness, and those names will definitely draw a snort of amusement from Gwynn the Miraculous Therapeutic Masseuse at Body Dynamics.)

It is forever an oracle’s job to be misunderstood, whether she’s perched on a three-legged stool in a cave or holds a clipboard in Falls Church, Virginia. It can take a shockingly long way into a hero’s journey for the prophesy to suddenly make sense.

I’ve been complaining to everyone who will listen (and to some who would prefer not to) that my low back muscles are seizing up in righteous fury. Definitely when I first get out of bed in the morning, but very often when I’m just standing up from a chair. But it took me a surprisingly long time to tromp, armor-clad, up the hill to my own Delphic oracle.

“BARBARA!” I cried, “what is up with my BACK??”

Patiently – for oracles are always patient; they have no choice – she had me demonstrate just the first exercise of my Home Exercise Program (hep, hep, hep). This involves me lying on my back on a foam roller – misnamed; it’s not foamy and soft at all – and holding two weights overhead. (Then – left arm down, right knee down. Alternate sides. Count to 20.)

“Are you holding the small of your back down onto the foam roller?”

“Of course! It’s as flat as I can make it – look! Try to wedge your hand in there!”

(We’d just been working out – even ran/walked a gasping mile – and no one in their right mind would have put a hand anywhere near my sweaty back for all the honors in Ancient Greece.)

“As flat as you can make it? How are you doing that?”

“How? Well – I’m flattening it.”

“Yes, but how?”

Questions like these absolutely stymie me. I fell silent, trying to read what my muscles were doing. Barbara went on.

“Are you pushing down with your back? Or with your low abs?”

I had a momentary short-circuit and gabbled stupidly while thinking about it. “Umm…”

I lay on the foam roller in the middle of an enormous gym, rocking my hips in a vaguely obscene gesture. “With my back… with my abs… with my back… with my – MY BACK! I’m pushing with my BACK!”

Barbara sat straighter on her heels with That Look – the “you have to be patient with idiots” look. “What are you supposed to be tilting your pelvis with?”

“Um – my abs?”

“And how long have we been working on that?”

“So, maybe two years?”

“That’s right. Can you think of why your low back might be hurting?”

“But my low abs are as strong as wet tissue paper, and my back is steel cables. It’s EASIER with my back.”

“Is it? How does your back feel every morning?”

“Oh – I get it, Pectinius! Headlights forward with the LOW ABS!”

“That’s right.”

It took me two years to get it – and my low abs really do feel alarmingly weak… but at least now I know where they are, and I trust that they can get stronger. Thank God I’ve got an oracle. I need to buy her a laurel wreath… and listen more carefully. Although it won’t help; history proves that!

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Barbara’s Halloween costume for next year, as painted by pre-Raphaelite artist John Collier. Ain’t that a honey of a painting?

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