Keys clenched in her hand that’s almost visibly shaking with nervousness and anxiety, a woman walks through the doors of her local gym for the first time since she joined just a few days ago. She was a little anxious last time, but not nervous. Last time, she had the comfort of her baggy winter coat hiding her frame. Her body that she had at one time felt comfortable in, until that jerk ex-boyfriend of hers had started to make little comments about it throughout their relationship. They seemed like little comments to him, but a lot of guys don’t think about things the way girls do. Whether he was sincerely encouraging her to “take better care of herself” or was pushing buttons out of frustration, his little pebbles he thought he was tossing at her were more like blocks of C4 explosives, being set with a timer at all the key foundation points in the building of her self esteem. All seemingly timed to detonate once he was out of the “blast zone”- at the end of their relationship. Now here she is, at the gym in her workout gear just under the safety of that baggy coat, “ready” to workout for the first time in a long time. She is “greeted” by someone at the front desk, scanning her membership card and asking how she is doing. The greeting and question probably would’ve helped relax her if the scanner person actually looked up from the computer or fully disengaged from the work they were doing.
She continues on to the classroom where the boot camp was being held and walks in to see several different cliques of people, standing around talking and laughing. She tried not to look directly at any of them and through the peripherals of her eyes she envisioned them all with “perfect” bodies. Muscles bulging where they should be, chiseled and toned everywhere else. Also relying on her peripherals, she didn’t look directly at them but swore they were all looking directly at her as she made her way to the back corner of the room, hoping she’d be under a light that was more dim than the rest. “They’re all staring at me! They’re all judging me! I don’t want to take my coat off! Maybe if I grab my phone and pretend I got a call I can walk back out…Shoot! I left my phone in the car!” Her mind is rapidly shooting through all these scenarios, trying to come up with things to say to people that stare at her. Trying to think of excuses why she should leave. Trying to convince herself she can workout at home tomorrow morning and she’ll “really do it this time.” There’s one small voice still within, probably the smallest and, ironically, the one that makes the most sense, whispering to her “You got this. You have no reason to be embarrassed or afraid. It’s just a class.” But she doesn’t hear it as the sense of touch overrides that small voice and instead she feels the car keys in her pocket again and decides it’s time to go.
“Hey, do I know you?” a voice asks in her direction, startling her as she makes her first step for the door. She turns to see someone’s eyes light up and their mouth stifle a giggle and then from the same eyes and mouth she receives what her senses tell her to be a sincere “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you! I thought you were someone I knew and hadn’t seen in a while. But come to think of it, I haven’t seen you before. Are you new here?” With the sincerity and innocence of the question, our new gym goer’s apprehension starts to dissipate as she answers “Yes. Is it that obvious?” Again with a giggle the stranger responds “Nah, I just have missed some sessions and so I didn’t know if you came here when I hadn’t. Welcome! You’re gonna love this class! I’m not much one for working out but this one is the right balance for me of just enough work to make me feel like I did something and being lots of fun with great music where I enjoy myself the whole time! Plus I feel less guilty about that frozen coffee I had this morning… or the scoop of ice cream I’m gonna have later. Put your coat over there then come over here by me and I can help you out since it’s your first time!” Suddenly, that whispering voice was the only voice she heard, loud and clear. And it sounded just like this stranger! As she made her way over to her new friend and the spot she reserved for her she finally took a solid look at the people in the room. She saw not all of them but some of the people in good shape, sure. But she didn’t see judging eyes or people leering and whispering to one another. She saw friendships and smiles, full of encouragement and hope.
Much like Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, I’m betting each of us can relate to one person or another in this story. And with each point of view in this story comes a lesson to be learned. Did you catch the lesson? Let me offer some help.
The protagonist – Our main character, the woman is full of anxiety and nervousness about her first day at a new place. While this could of have been an exciting start to a new journey, she let the harsh memories of the words of an antagonist in her past dictate how she felt about herself, and in her mind, how she figured other people looked at her. She kept her eyes down and diverted away from the people around her, missing opportunities to connect were it not for the stranger at the end. Ethel Barrett once said “we would worry less about what other people thought of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Another smart woman, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
The stranger – This woman can almost be considered the hero of the story as she saves our main character from running out and giving up on herself. While it started out a mistaken identity, thinking she was approaching a friend, the stranger could tell that the woman was nervous and helped calm her and even invited her over to where she was to take care of her during the class. This was one of Jesus’ requests for us, to “love thy neighbor.”
The scanner at the desk – Our “supporting cast” character here was more like an “extra” in this scene as they didn’t do much to really support or welcome our main character. Maybe they were in the middle of what was given to them as an important task or they were just tired of being there after a busy day, but their role here could have been so much more important had they simply looked up and noticed the anxiety on the woman’s face and offered a warm smile and taken interest in the woman’s day. You never know how much of an affect you can have on someone by taking one moment. “A random act of kindness, no matter how small, can make a tremendous impact on someone’s life,” said by Roy Bennett.
The jerk ex-boyfriend – We’ve all said things we probably shouldn’t have and have probably had some of our words taken the wrong way, but words can do some serious harm. He may or may not have intended on being a jerk but we need to watch the words we use. Author Nelson Searcy said “Being intentional simply means refusing to be careless with your language any longer and becoming more conscientious of how you talk to yourself and the people around you so you can have a positive impact on their own life and on theirs.”
The others – Much like the scanner at the front desk, there was a room full of people talking and enjoying themselves and didn’t give much thought or consideration to the new person joining the class. Do you watch the world around you? Or do you have blinders on and are focused solely on what’s important to you? Would it be too much to simply greet someone you don’t know? “Kind words can be brief and simple, yet they echo in our memories forever.” – Chinese Proverb.
Did you catch that? The same story, different sides and different lessons. If there was a person that you related with most in this story, I hope that the lesson stays with you.
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