I was in a bad mood Friday afternoon. I can’t even recall why exactly. Maybe it was because Friday was one of those classic January days – cold, rainy, dark – a perfect day for leaving work, having a nice dinner and settling in front of the tv for a movie. It was patently not the type of day that inspires one to work out. So as I left the office and made my way back home to meet Melissa and then go to the pool for our second swim workout of the week, I was brooding.
When I arrived home, I employed various delay tactics – grabbing a snack, checking email, checking Facebook, hoping that in some rare moment of weakness, Melissa would decide on her own to blow off the swim workout, or that a random meteorite might demolish Optimist pool where we swim. No such luck. Sensing defeat, I changed clothes, grabbed a towel and with a longing, bitter glance backward at the couch and television, I followed Melissa out the door.
On the short ride from the house to the pool, I was mostly silent, except for an occasional acknowledging grunt as Melissa gamely attempted to engage me in conversation about our bike workouts for Saturday and Sunday, which only had the unintended effect of deepening my funk. I was intent on being in a bad mood. Most everyone I knew – family, friends, co-workers – were likely off at restaurants or movie theaters or just lounging comfortably, dry and warm around their living rooms. I was about to swim 3,400 meters and all I wanted to do was to embrace my victimhood. We arrived at the annoyingly named Optimist pool and after checking in at the front desk, Melissa cheerfully let me know she’d see me in a few minutes while I skulked away towards the men’s locker room.
Life has a way sometimes of letting you know just what a self-absorbed jerk you really are. One of those moments was about to hit me with all the subtlety of a 2×4 to the face.
As I rounded the corner into the locker room I saw a familiar individual. Someone I had seen a number of times at the pool, but had never met. He has some type of degenerative muscular disease – perhaps Muscular Dystrophy and as a result, his legs are atrophied and contorted. He walks with great difficulty, laboring slowly with each step and is heavily reliant on crutches. Yet he comes to the pool often – I have seen him many times – and in the pool, he swims beautifully. In the pool, he is liberated from his condition, and his natural athleticism, so cruelly hidden most of the time, becomes strikingly evident. Here in the locker room, he struggled mightily to perform the simplest tasks – just dressing himself was a laborious process – a slow struggle. Nothing comes easy. As I stood at my locker I watched him from the corner of my eye, on his knees, organizing his gym bag, perhaps resting from the struggle of dressing and readying himself for the walk out to his car. I wanted to cry. Not because I pitied him – despite his struggles, he does not invite pity – he possesses a bravery and cheerfulness that is astounding. I found myself getting emotional because I was totally humbled by this guy and more than a little embarrassed by the absurdity of my brooding just a few minutes before. Here was a guy, I thought to myself, who has been dealt a much more difficult hand in life, but he is battling his disease and quite frankly, kicking it’s ass. He is a happy warrior.
I chatted with him a little bit, asking him how the water was that night and talking about the weather. He finished dressing and with a broad smile, waived, wished me a great weekend and with slow, determined effort, made his way out of the locker room.
Within three minutes of arriving at Optimist, I found myself totally transformed. My grumpiness had been replaced by thankfulness, my brooding by inspiration. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get into the pool.