I started writing this story earlier this summer, but tucked it away, unfinished. After writing yesterday’s post, I decided to revisit this one. It may not be a story that seems overly hopeful or full of redemption, but today I want to share it anyway. As I think about hope and what it means, I am struck by the fact that at times hope can be difficult to see, illusive and hidden. We long to be whole, but I think our mistakes, our pain, and our brokenness may lead us to hope and wholeness more than anything else. In the book, Found, Micha Boyett writes, “Maybe the people closest to whole are those most aware of how fractured they actually are.” Thanks for stopping by on Day #3.
I walk into the gym in the early morning hours, yawning as I check in and grab a towel. I casually wave to the familiar faces that surround me and quietly walk to my favorite corner to stretch. Working out at the same gym for nine years creates a strange sort of community, where few of us know each other’s names, but all of us respect each other’s commitment to our early morning fitness routine. I see the three old men sitting at the table drinking coffee, laughing, waving a hearty good morning as I pass. I smile and wonder if they ever exercise or if the gym has become more of a neighborhood coffee shop. I wave to the two women who run together regularly on the treadmill, talking loudly over the noise, oblivious that we can all hear their conversations. I avoid eye contact with the creepy man wearing gold chains who flexes in front of the mirror and always instructs me about how my form isn’t quite right on whatever machine I happen to be using at the time.
Two women also come to mind as I think about my people-watching at the gym. One is there every time I work out. She is my height, but weighs at least 40 pounds less than I do. I feel a sense of worry when I see her and wonder about her apparent struggle. I stretch on the mat and look over to see her climbing onto the elliptical after she finishes a spin class. I try not to stare, but can’t help noticing her hip bones protruding from her spandex that are more like baggy shorts. I find myself thinking about her story, and always try to say hello when I see her. She doesn’t seem open to conversation beyond hello.
The other woman I watch is someone who has battled cancer. A year ago, I noticed that she lost all of her hair and was wearing a cute bandana while walking on the treadmill. A smile covers her face every time I see her. We’ve never exchanged names, but we share smiles and hellos. One time we passed each other at the store and joked about seeing each other out of context, unsure of how to recognize each other without our sweaty workout clothes. Her hair has been growing back recently, all light brown and wavy, and I just feel inspired by her story that I observe from afar. She gives me hope every time I see her because she seems to embrace her life with joy and purpose.
I recently took a short break from my early morning gym visits so that I could run outside more as I trained for a race. My unnamed friends noticed, giving me grief when I returned, wondering where I had been and labeling me a slacker. After a week of workouts, I noticed that I hadn’t seen the anorexic woman at all. I found myself looking for her, hoping she was ok.
I finally asked one of my treadmill friends if he had seen her at all. He immediately remembered that he hadn’t seen her either. Then he said, “But you know the one woman who had cancer and was always here with her daughter?” I smiled and nodded yes. “Well, she died a month ago. Her cancer came back.”
I think my mouth dropped to the floor, and I just looked at him. “What?!” I asked in disbelief. “How is that possible? She looked so good the last time I saw her.” I found myself wondering if he was talking about someone else and maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t her.
I felt sad about this all day.
I still do.
And I can’t help but ask myself how I could see someone regularly for nine years and not know their name. How did I never ask that anorexic woman her name? I used the elliptical next to her more times than I can count. I stretched next to her on the community mats. I asked if she was finished using the ball or some weights, but I never asked her name. I watched another woman lose her hair and fight her cancer battle every day with a smile on her face. I watched as her hair grew back all brown and wavy, and I felt like fist bumping her each time I passed her on my way to the locker room, but I never stopped to ask her name.
Like I shared yesterday, I love when someone knows my name. I love hearing it especially from across the room. It is a glimpse of what it looks like to be known. And even though I watched two women struggle from afar and wondered about their stories, I never took the time to introduce myself officially. You can’t know someone’s story if you don’t know their name first. Did other people keep their distance like I did because it was too uncomfortable to get closer to the pain? I don’t know. I just know that I missed an opportunity to value another person by saying their name.
A week later I walked into Target with my daughter, laughing as she called this store her “happy place.” As we passed the toothpaste aisle, I recognized a man whom I see regularly at the gym. He is awkward, but always waves to me at the gym, eager for the return hello.
I smiled and asked how he was doing. We made small talk and just before he turned to leave I said, “Please tell me your name.”
“My name is John. What’s yours?” He laughed and said, “It’s kind of funny being at a place for so long and never knowing anyone’s name.”
I nodded and smiled, “Yes, it really is, isn’t it? It’s nice to finally meet you, John.”
We waved good bye and continued on our way, and I smiled as I heard, “See you at the gym, Lori.”