My wife and I went to the Rec at 6:30 this morning. She made her way to a treadmill for cardio; I began with weights. I never feel particularly strong in the mornings—mostly stiff, shaky and out of breath, but I persevered through a moderate workout. I had just painfully puffed my way through a third set of pushups and was slowly standing up when I heard clapping coming from my right. I looked around and there was a man, probably in his late sixties, sitting on a lower back machine clapping away like there was something impressive going on in front of him. We were the only two in the weight room. I figured he had a good reason for applauding that was completely disconnected from myself, so I kept on with my business. The clapping continued. I glanced over again. This time he was clapping and pointing at, well, me. There could be no mistake; he was giving me a round of applause. I was puzzled. He spoke:
“You’re doing a great job, you know that?”
“Well I , I. . .” I stammered.
“You’re a strong young man; that’s great!”
“I’m sure trying.”
“Well, good work.”
I smiled, thanked him and moved to calf raises. He didn’t say another word.
In my six years of going to the gym, nothing like this has happened to me. The typical gym patron isn’t interested in congratulating anyone but that good looking person in the mirror smiling back at them. I’ve speculated his reasons for this: It could be that I looked particularly weak at the moment,and he thought I needed a little moral booster. It could be he was sitting far enough away to think I really am a strong young man. Or maybe he has a habit of verbally building up strangers who are attempting to pump themselves up. Whatever the reason, he braved societal norms, broke through that unspoken high wall of silence between gym-goers and gave me a verbal back slap. I’m glad he did. It bodes well for Newton. Maybe tomorrow I’ll pay it forward and shock someone else with unexpected kindness. Maybe.
R. Eric Tippin
In The Study on 8th Street
May 6, 2013