The other day my husband and I went to the gym. I have finally reached a place in which I can exercise every day and not suffer enormous amounts of pain the next morning. It’s pure bliss! So we went to the gym, lifted weights, I did my chiropractor-ordered exercises for my back, and when I was done my husband had an additional 15 minutes of lifting to do so I made my way to the stationary bikes.
Our gym takes up two levels. The bottom level houses the entrance, the salon, the cafe, the locker rooms, the pools, and the desk at which you flash your card on the way in. The gym is upstairs. The bike I chose faced the open lobby below where people enter the building and show their membership cards. I’d forgotten my iPod so my entertainment was limited to people watching.
Our gym is the kind that’s made-up of pretty people. When we first started going to this particular branch I was intimidated, and irritated, and uncomfortable. Over the past couple years, however, I’ve gotten used to it and have found that the pretty people are also pretty nice. Sure, there are the occasional meatheads who talk loudly about the women working out. “Woah…did you see her? She always gets so fat in the winter!” they’ll say about a girl who is at most a size six. To which I usually say, almost under my breath, “are you f-cking kidding me with this?!”
So as I peddled on my bike the other day I also observed the families, and teenagers, and 20 somethings, and 50 somethings coming into the gym and my eyes fell upon a funny little family. The dad, probably my age or a couple of years older, was rocking red basketball shorts, a tank top, and large headphones with one muff on his left ear and the other propped on his right temple.
‘Who the f-ck is THIS joker?!’ I thought to myself. He was with his wife who was dressed in oversized business casual wear, a teenage boy who was most obviously their son, and another boy who appeared to be a friend of the son’s. They offered their cards and said something to the girl working and she directed them to wait on the other side of the counter. As they went that direction, I noticed that the dad limped, and had several scars on his head which would indicate brain surgery.
Soon, a slightly smarmy manager (as most of them are) came out to the lobby in his suit and tie, with greased back well-styled hair, and a chunky expensive looking watch. He looked around for the group he had been called out to assist but didn’t seem to see anyone. The funny little family stood smack-dab in the middle of the action. Right in front of his face. He walked around the desk to the side in which a large TV and couches sat and asked a couple of groups if they needed help. Both said no. He then came back out in the open looking around, his eyes passing over the family in need, several times more than once.
The dad of the family put his finger up several times, indicating that they were the ones in need of help, but it still took time for the manager to actually see them. It was as if they’d simply melted into the walls and ceased to exist. When he finally noticed them his facial expression, and body language, appeared to say “Oh come on! Really?” Like…he’d been expecting someone better. Or prettier. Or something. He led the family around the desk and began interacting with them in a way that would suggest, so so subtly, that he was better than they were.
From what I could tell, they were simply getting a guest pass for the boy’s friend. An easy procedure done all the time. But the dad looked utterly deflated. He appeared to be trying to talk to the manager, authoritatively. His wife, recognizing her husband’s defeat, rubbed his arm and stood behind him a little. Maybe in an effort to build him back up? Maybe just to make him feel better? And as the boys looked on, the tiniest look of embarrassment crossed the son’s face.
I sat, watching, feeling like I was being stabbed in the heart.
Who doesn’t know what it feels like to deal with someone who is behaving as if they are better than us? Who doesn’t know what it feels like to simply want to assert ourselves as human beings, worthy of respect, and worthy of being treated well? Who doesn’t know what it feels like to be with a partner who deflates before our very eyes and wanting more than anything to build them back up any way we know how? Who hasn’t experienced this very thing, in some way shape or form, and remembers how heartbreaking and sad it was?
When my husband came over to tell me he’d finished I spit out the story feeling like I could start crying. It had been so sad to watch. As we walked to the stairs going down to the locker rooms we passed the family who was being led upstairs by the manager. The boys looked excited, the mom had visibly relaxed, but the dad still looked like he just wanted to be treated like the man of the household.
I know few people who are free of judgement. Most everyone with whom I keep company tries their best to be kind, and generous, and fair, and open-minded. But the moment I first laid eyes on that man I was quick to judge. Quick to wonder why that middle-aged white dad was sporting headphones like a rapper in the midst of mixing beats.
It’s given me pause. I left the gym feeling sad, feeling like an a-shole, and feeling like I need to do better. It’s reminded me that all of us, at our most basic? We just want people to treat us with respect. And we should be treating them the way we ourselves want to be treated. That damn Golden Rule we learn from the time we’re teensy…it really holds its weight.
TODAY: What if I work harder to be kind and free of judgement? What if I use this experience as a reminder that everyone deserves to be treated like they are wonderful people…because chances are…they are?