The middle-aged, middle eastern woman was on the elliptical machine before I started circling the track. I noticed her and smiled a greeting. She smiled back and continued stepping. We have seen each other at the gym, perhaps been in some classes together, but I don’t remember ever being introduced. The gym is this way; every woman for herself. Come in, exercise, shower and depart. (Well, except for the aerobics and body sculpting class ladies who visit for hours in the locker room after class.)
So we engage in our individual diligences, mine encircling hers. One time, as I approach her, her face is radiant. She is looking up from the machine screen but not at me. I just don’t normally have that effect on people. 🙂 Curious, as I pass her this time I glance back at the console in front of her, figuring she must be reading something that has tickled her funny bone. Nope. Nothing there.
I’m mystified. People don’t usually smile on the workout machines.
Later, I see this woman again in the locker room. She smiles and says hello. Acknowledges that we are some of the “old timers” – been coming here for quite some time. And so I ask, “Why were you smiling so?”
She was a bit startled. “Was I smiling?” Then out poured, “It feels so good. It really is the best medicine. Everything that is wrong vanishes, worries go away. I feel so light and healthy.” Then she added, “Why am I not more faithful?”
The woman was recounting a spiritual experience of a physical nature. What a good feeling it is to do what’s healthy and fulfilling and lifting. A peak experience that, all at once, seems to meet every need. When we come down from that mountaintop we look back up and wonder, that moment is there for the choosing. Why don’t I choose it more regularly?
“We’ve seen each other here before, haven’t we?” she said to me.
“Yes, we have,” I say. “I’m Wendy.”
“Keep smiling when you exercise, Sheila. It makes people wonder.” This is advice I have given before and something I try to remember myself. So many of us adopt such grim, death-march expressions when we exercise, no one in their right mind would consider joining us. But smiling, that makes ’em wonder.
And I wonder why, when it feels so good to do what’s good for my body, I don’t remember that feeling and let it draw me back again to the place at the base of the mountain. I guess it’s the uphill climb that’s a bit daunting.
I’m brought back to level ground as I leave the gym. There sits a young man I had also seen in my travels around the track. He was “working” with a personal trainer. The trainer was providing mostly entertainment while this poorly fit, quite overweight young man struggled to execute a few push ups. If you could call them that. Butt in the air, elbows barely bending, as he descended a few inches. Probably all he could muster. He stood and hunched his shoulders, obviously unfamiliar with the feeling. The trainer gave up trying to motivate the kid to do them correctly, and they chatted about the Caps win last night.
But it’s a start, I remind myself, attempting to cast aside judgment. At least he’s here, attending to the issue.
Slinging gym bag and purse over one shoulder, I head out through the gym lobby. There’s the young man with the push up problem. He sits in one of the poppy-colored, overstuffed seats in the “waiting and cell phone” area with his Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiato, thick as an ice cream sundae, double cupped so none of the whip would escape. He sips and sits and chats on his phone. Probably figures, ‘I deserve this, I just went for personal training.’ It will be no surprise when “all this effort” is for naught and he gives up the expensive attempt to fix the challenge he has. Maybe he’ll even add his voice to the millions who say “exercise alone” just didn’t solve my problem.
Nope. Exercise – alone – won’t do it. We need something more to compel us, something that draws us up and then makes us smile. We probably won’t even realize the radiance on our face, but others will see it and wonder. It’s compelling.
I skipped the Starbucks entirely.
My left rotator cuff is giving me a bit of trouble again. I notice it when simple motions give me a twinge. Like pulling the sheets back or grabbing the seat belt. I, ever the self-diagnostician, always stop at the twinge. I lift the arm. Rotate it. Lift it again. Until I get it exactly right. And by right, I mean, when I can repeat the pain.
That may sound a bit counterproductive, but that’s how I pinpoint what to address. It hurts – right – here. Poke. Prod. Let me try a push up… Nope. That hurts. Maybe a stretch… Nope. That hurts. There is always rest but that sounds so very much like giving up. I mean, something caused this problem, I must FIX it.
So, I can’t do push ups but I can do my “regular” upper back/trapezius/cervical spine strengthening lifts. I do these lying face down on a half foam roller. Straight armed raises using 3 (yes, 3) lb weights – call me a wimp if you’d like – arms at my sides, then arms out to the sides, then…wait. When I lift my arms toward the back – the motion opposite my rotator cuff pain on the front – I feel weak on the left side. Go figure. A weak muscle is likely the culprit in the straining of it’s opposing muscle.
Why is it when we have pain that we poke and prod around the painful spot rather than behind it? That we scurry to shore up the injury instead of looking to its support system for weak links? Why do we fix rather than strengthen and stabilize in a way that would repair and steady us to move forward?
Perhaps because it’s dark and cobwebby down there. It may get ugly. We may get dirty. It may be hard work. Or it may be that we just don’t think about it.
It just sounds very much like God to me to say, “Wendy, I used that sore spot to get your attention, but what really needs doing is this.”
It’s such a better conversation than the one I usually have with myself that starts with, “ouch” and ends with: “this would have been so easy to prevent had I addressed it sooner.”
I believe God is in the injury prevention business, not just service and repair.