My workouts this summer have not been nonexistent; however, they haven’t been what you would call regular either. So, when I got to the gym this morning, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I started my work-out on a cardio machine, listening to an Audible book while I was at it.
I picked a machine with the TVs behind it because I didn’t want to be distracted by the news. For some reason, I just don’t seem to have an emotional epidermis; things get to me that apparently don’t bother others. Maybe that is why I am so highly attuned to angry voices—something in my brain picks up the tension before the person even looks or sounds very upset to anyone else.
So, anyway, I was happy to find a cardio machine with its back to the incessant media input of the gym’s wide screen TVs. I had just gotten started when I began to sense hostility nearby. I looked over my shoulder and noticed a staff member (let’s call her Carla) about to assist a patron (we’ll call him Josef). Carla, a gym favorite, is legally blind and brings her guide dog along with her to work. She’s worked there four or five years. I thought initially that I had misread things and that Josef was just making an attempt at sarcastic humor.
Within a couple of minutes, it was clear that this was not a good-humored exchange. Josef said things like, “How are you supposed to help me? You can’t even see!” and “Go away and find me someone who isn’t blind.”
Fun fact: Josef is completely blind himself. Carla has been helping him since he joined the gym a short time ago. Previously, he had said she made him feel more comfortable there because of how adept she is at maneuvering around the machines and so on. (Qualification: no doubt something else major was going on with him today for him to act so ugly. Relevant? Sure. A valid excuse for verbally abusing someone? Not in the least.)
“Hey buddy,” I said when I’d gotten off the machine, “Settle down there.”
“Who are you?”
“Well, I’m a patron who pays my monthly fee just like you and you have gotten so loud that you disturbed my workout.”
“I have told her to go away and get me someone who can see and she’s still standing there.”
Me, to Carla: “Let’s walk over here.” She was trembling by this time, visibly upset. “I’m sorry there are people who behave like that,” I said to her. I walked with her to the wellness center desk as she tried to figure out how to handle the situation. She filled me in about Josef (I’d not noticed his visual impairment) and their relationship to this point. She told me, by the way, that recently, these kinds of things have been happening more frequently. (I cannot even . . . I truly cannot . . .)
At some point, I went to retrieve my things. I turned back to Josef and said, “Dude, that was rough. You just ruined my workout and messed up Carla’s whole day.”
“Screw you! I don’t care about your workout. It’s all about me. Go away!”
So, I did--go away, that is. (Incidentally, the whole time this altercation was unfolding, I was saying to myself, Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. #pastoralcare101)
I submitted a comment card detailing the incident and told Carla I would go ask others to do the same. At the time of Josef’s verbal assault, all the cardio machines around him were occupied. I knew others had to have heard it.
Well, maybe they did, but didn’t want to get involved; or maybe they were all so internally focused that they truly did not notice what was going on around them. In either case, not one of them was willing to complete a comment card.
Carla thanked me repeatedly, I gave her my contact information, and I went on my way.
Oh, one more thing. I haven’t been to that branch of my gym in more than a year. I only went today on a whim. Or so I thought.
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.