A Growing Heart

Thanksgiving’s timing comes perfectly for me this year. I am feeling keenly aware of how easily things can come crashing down, changing everything. Maybe temporarily, maybe permanently. This is without a major crisis in my life, just the recent experiences I’ve had with feeling depressed and overwhelmed. I think it’s been a humbling experience, letting me know I’m not immune from those things.

Of course, like most of you, I could fill pages with things I’m thankful for. Most are pretty predictable and you could probably write at least one of my pages for me. There are a few things I’m thankful for this year that surprise me, though. That show me how my heart has grown. That show me where I need to grow. That give me hope. That make me grieve and yearn for healing.

I’m a member of a gym that has multiple buildings we can use. The one closest to our house is slightly run down, not in the best part of town, and attracts a pretty diverse group of people. There is nothing flashy about this place. In fact, the nicest spot is probably the childcare room. Some people just come to shower, many of whom are homeless. Some people come purely for conversation. Most come to exercise. Lots of parents drop off little ones in the fantastic kids room complete with big playmats for tumbling, tons of toys, no televisions, and interactive, engaged staff. It is water for my soul to go to this gym. Not solely because I get to exercise while my boys play contentedly and the rain pours outside. It’s the spirit of the place. It’s a micro community, supporting people in whatever their needs are. I don’t feel any sense of competition at this gym.

There’s a man I see there regularly. He is quite overweight, always sweating profusely while he rides a stationary bike. Soaked clothes, dripping on the floor. Most of the people surrounding him weigh less than him, look more fit than him, and certainly everyone is drier than him. But there he is, clearly giving it his best. I’m not sure I’d be so brave. It takes a lot of courage to enter a scene as the most vulnerable. He is impressive, so very strong. I am thankful for him.

I’m thankful that I’m being kinder to myself. Loving and forgiving myself a bit more- quirks, bad mood / depressed / sharp tongue days, neurologic deficits (we all have ’em, folks), new wrinkles and all. Not giving up on things I hope to change, but giving myself more grace for the journey. I am entering the weight room on a regular basis, something that always makes me uncomfortable at first. I hate that it’s frequently a male-dominated scene. But I go. I lift free weights in front of the mirror, looking at my body because it’s either that, close my eyes while I lift, or not face the mirror at all, both of which would be quite odd. So, I’m using this time to try to really see myself. To let my eyes be evermore accepting of what they see.

There’s a woman at the gym that I first met in a small weight-lifting class. She was quiet and kept to herself. I’m persistent in wearing people down with kind greetings, so by the end of the class session, we were having brief conversations. While passing her in the locker room yesterday I said hi and casually asked how she was. She told me she was feeling pretty anxious, she hadn’t heard from friends about Thanksgiving and wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Maybe she’d go to a movie, she added. At least the cheap theaters let you watch as many as you want. I ached for her.

She continued on with her bigger story. I went from quickly packing up my stuff to get the boys to sitting quietly on a stool in the locker room, listening to her. After losing her job a year and a half ago, she’s been homeless for a year, in and out of friends’ homes and various transitional housing units. That’s when I realized why there were four big bags at her feet. She was just moving into a new place and had to carry everything with her, but first she needed to get to a temp job. I was honored she shared all this with me after such a simple question. She also accepted my offer to drive her to the job so she could avoid walking in the rain with her bags. I’m thinking of her today, hoping those friends called and she has a warm meal and feels loved. She is so strong, allowing me to know these broken pieces and help carry the load, even if just for a few minutes.

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