Today I saw a boy outside of my gym. He had his grey hood up and appeared to be waiting for a ride. It was 22 degrees outside. He was smoking a cigarette. Funny that; a cigarette outside of a gym. And then it occurred to me that he was in recovery. I have no proof of this random rush to judgement – just a hunch. I gave him a big smile and, contradictory to his rather unapproachable affect, he smiled back.
I felt like we had bridged, in some small way, a rather momentous divide. This may have been another rush to judgement on my part – but clearly we had plenty that separated us. Age, sex, income level and life experience for one. Most likely also politics, education, hobbies, and the content of our daydreams.
Once inside I focused on maintaining my speed on the treadmill. This is more challenging then it sounds because the desire to slow down is surprisingly strong with me – and it only takes the push of one sweaty button. Sometimes I bait myself with my daughter’s struggles… if she had the inner strength to quit drugs then you can certainly run for fifteen more minutes. (Maybe you could even, God forbid, kick up the speed.) It was then that I noticed the boy. I guess, unable to get that ride, he had returned to the warmth of the gym. He had removed his hoodie – and he was covered in tattoos. Not a tribal bracelet, soft green shamrock or the name of a lost family member. No, these were the scary kind. They traveled up his arms, his neck, his brow. They were dark and fresh and it would be hard to accept the challenge to look directly at them. I wondered if he had been a dealer. I wondered what kind of trouble he had gotten into in his brief life.
And then I saw him grab free weights – and he used them like a ballerina. Slow beautiful, deliberate arcs. Others grunted and watched themselves in the mirror. Some walked around more than they lifted. But he was lost in an interior world. At one point he looked like a Christ child; his arms impossibly spread, his posture shamelessly on display. I couldn’t help but imagine what he had suffered for his addiction. What avenues had he gone down to feed his fix? How could ones desire for something be so strong that they would risk destroying the beautiful body that they had been given?
Making yet another mad rush to judgement I decided that this is what we shared in common. A desire to both understand and to forget. And shouldn’t our interior worlds bind us more than our exterior ones? It is unfortunate that they aren’t as obvious as race or culture. Our interior worlds are often fiercely private and often lonely. If only they glowed like some sort of mood ring – I am green I am working on liking myself, I am blue I am working on liking others, I am red I am working on controlling my moods, I am purple I am working on forgiving. How cool would that be? Then we could help each other, guide each other, or at least recognize a commonality: I am not alone.
I have a strong feeling that me and this very different boy had lived through something regrettable and were working hard to reinvent it. A personal resurrection or rebirth of sorts. And it made sense to me, it was Christmas week after all.