Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Perspective

This morning I woke up early and went to the gym, per doctors' orders. The objective was to strengthen my bones, which have been weakened by the Idarubicin that targeted my bone marrow. During that workout, I achieved more than my original goal. I enjoyed a moment of self righteousness, and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

Ten minutes into my elliptical machine workout, a hefty man climbs onto the machine next to mine. A minute later, a woman sporting a fresh hair perm says to him, "You didn't sign up for that machine. I just did, so please get off."

He expresses surprise and indignation, but climbs down and wanders around the gym to find an alternative calorie-burning activity. Five minutes later, he passes our machines and says to the woman in blue spandex, "There are six other open machines you could have used instead of taking mine."

He moves away before the inflamed woman can make a retort. Oh, but she gets back at him. She proceeds to tell the next three women she knows who pass by how horribly this man has treated her.

Meanwhile, I am puffing along next to her, amazed that she is so deeply wounded. A fourth woman comes along, and I hear the complaint about the man for a fourth time. I had been doing such a good job of self control, but I can't take it anymore.

I whip off my sports cap. I make eye contact with the woman on the machine and then her friend below. I give them adequate time to stare at my bald head, and then I say, "There are more important things in life."

Both women mumble something about knowing that. The friend shies away, and the woman next to me stares down at her control panel and increases the tempo of her arm and leg movements.

I had no business butting in, and I shouldn't have used my bald head as I prop in doing so. Nonetheless, it felt really good. So I didn't stop there. As I was leaving, I glanced around for the hefty, "evil" man. I wanted to tell him my machine was free, just so I could see the two of them exercising next to each other. In retrospect, I should have offered him my machine when they first started to fight. That would have been fun to watch.

Hopefully one rude interuption was enough to rid the urge from my system, for I'm sure this won't be the only time I will have a differing opinion on the importance of a gripe.

I will need to remember that the weight of a problem or conflict in a person's life is relative to her other experiences. I have a different perspective than the woman working out next to me. Her family all might be in perfect health; her daughter might have just finished high school and be headed off to Yale in the fall; her husband might have just been promoted. If this is her life, then yes, an altercation over an elliptical trainer could feel like a big deal.

Five years from now, if a woman cuts in front of me in line at the grocery store, with a cart filled to the brim, and I find the anger rising in me, then I will be happy. If my circumstances have changed, such that I'm irritated when that woman's mangos require the cashier to announce a "Price Check, Aisle 5," then I will add a bottle of champagne to my cart. I look forward to being considered "cured" and having my worries be about the little things instead of big things.

That said, no matter how healthy and happy my family's future might be, I'd never let a hefty man ruin my entire workout. In fact, I never would have asked him to give up the machine over a technicality. One's perspective should be shaped by more than the person's immediate circumstances. As my father used to say when I wouldn't eat my cooked carrots as a child, "There are starving children in Africa." As long as that is the case, the addage, "there are more important things in life," applies to a quarrel in the gym or being skipped in the grocery store line.

In theory, this mentality sounds easy to maintain. However, when my circumstances are improved, I'm sure I'll forget it occassionally, just as the woman at the gym did today. When that happens, maybe a blunt younger woman will whip off her hat to show me her bald head and offer me a reminder.