Posted on | January 25, 2013 | 7 Comments
Yesterday, I went to the gym to pound out a few more miles on the treadmill. I was scheduled for five so I settled in for the long haul, feeling the tug of the motor beneath my feet and the beat of the bass in my ears. To the left of me, an average sized woman walked at a steady incline, gripping the handles of the machine and, inexplicably, singing along (loudly) to her earphone music.
I turned up the volume on my own music and ignored her, wondering what kind of nut job sang out loud while they exercised in a gym full of people.
After a few miles, a petite blonde took up the treadmill to my right. She had on a pair of roll top pants and a fitted t-shirt and her hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail… the kind that looks just perfect in its imperfection. I sort of hated her right on sight and tried to keep from glancing over to measure my speed or distance against hers. I tried to focus on beat of my own feet, tuning out the crazy on my left and the perfect on my right.
About an hour later, I finished my five plus miles and stepped off the treadmill to stretch. The woman to my left stopped her music and smiled at me.
“Tough work out today, huh,” she gestured to the rings of sweat I wore like jewelry and I nodded. “Way to go.” She smiled again and put her earphones back in, losing herself again in the music and I couldn’t help but smile. Crazy, maybe… but also genuine. I was embarrassed for being embarrassed to be beside her. I held my head ever so slightly higher, suddenly prouder of my five miles than I’d been only minutes before. I finished stretching and made my way to the locker room for a shower.
As I stepped out of the shower, I heard the whirr of a hair dryer and there at the sink was blonde perfection, drying her towel touseled hair and smiling slightly at me.
“Hey,” she smiled and I forced a smile back. I felt large, lumbering, towering over her like the Beast to her Belle. “You ran a long time today.”
I nodded, again, wondering if they’d passed around a memo.
“I’m training for a half-marathon, so I have to get in my miles,” I was still flippant, still expecting her to give me a pat on the back like “hey, way to go fatty.”
“I wish I could do that,” she sighed, putting down the hair dryer, and I looked up, astonished, as she continued. “I mean, I do what I can, but I’d love to get where I could just run as long as you can.”
I put down my preconceived notions and we talked, really talked, for the next five or ten minutes. She was just getting back to the gym, a mother of five, with three of the children just around the corner in gym daycare. She wanted to get back in shape, to reclaim her life post-kids, and she was starting small… one mile at a time.
I listened, encouraging her when needed, commiserating when I could, and after she picked up her bag and waved goodbye, I sat down on the hard bench and took a good look at my life. I realized that I stood in the middle of two unique, multi-faceted people for the better part of an hour and I immediately judged both of them, pigeon-holing them in precisely the way I believed they were pigeon-holing me.
I haven’t been quite so embarrassed by myself in a very long time.
It was a much subdued me who picked up her bag and left the locker room. I made a point to stop and talk to the nice man who is always cleaning the floors, and to the young blonde at the front who I’ve always ignored. I made a point of putting a smile on my face, keeping extras in my pocket and giving them freely to everyone I passed all day long.
Because I realized something profoundly true… judgment starts and ends right here with me. And if I can put aside my own issues and concerns long enough, I’m starting to realize that almost anyone can be a kindred spirit…. even a loudly singing middle-aged woman and a petite Barbie doll.