I’ve been working out a few times a week for years at the Kent State University’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center, and it never occurred to me until last week to bring to mind the connotations of the name of the place. Recreation should be fun, not just grinding it out; and wellness is a concept that encompasses all dimensions of the human being. As soon as the meanings hit me, good cheer flooded in. As I settled into my routine, I thought of Jesus and got really, really happy. I spend a fair amount of my exercise time in communion. Sometimes there’s very little content in the mind, just an awareness of high value and a superb spiritual companionship.
Going to the gym is one of my social times, too. It gets me away from the computer and sets me back in the student milieu where I worked during my professional career. I love to engage anyone in brief conversation; and these brief times of greeting accumulate and can develop into an almost friendship of genuine respect and affection. Many of the staff I have observed in excellent service to me or other patrons, and I have celebrated strengths of many of staff members by writing appreciative notes, many of which have been read at weekly staff meetings.
It was at the Rec Center where I first recognized (earlier this year) what community is. I was walking down the steps from the entry level to the level of the locker rooms, most of the exercise equipment, and the desk where appointments are made for some of the much used equipment. A person working the desk saw me descending the stairs twenty yards away. She hadn’t met me previously, but greeted me with a surprisingly spontaneous friendliness and flashed a smile that I intuitively perceived as spiritual. Her positive energy injected me with motivation, and I flew through my exercise routine with heightened strength and stamina. I realized that community in a full sense is a reality where people support one another to do their best in what they have gathered to do.
So I started to give people that kind of support more consciously. The Rec Center can sometimes get quite busy during the semester at times when a lot of students are out of class; but especially at more moderate times when I’m there, people get to know one another and develop a friendly familiarity.
Here’s the most recent note of appreciation that I wrote.
I usually take great care not to talk too much with employees who have their work to do, especially if someone is behind me in line at the equipment desk. But my sense of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center is that a little conversation is encouraged. Friendly interaction is part of what makes this place a wellness center. The word “wellness” has connotations that go beyond the physical aspect to the whole person.
Last week there were not many people working out; Bhavika was at the equipment desk, and there was no line of people needing things. She said, “How are you?” My immediate response was, “Happy” because that’s the way I feel when I see a person who I know to be friendly. But I thought a little more and said, “Well, honestly, sometimes I’m happy and sometimes not.” I had been wrestling with a problem and the idea came to me that she might be a good person to ask.
So I said, “How do you live harmoniously with ideals?” And we jumped into a profound conversation for two minutes. What she said included the following ideas. “You can’t live harmoniously with ideals, because other people disagree. You have to be well grounded in your ideals and strongly committed to them. And, yes, it’s necessary to compromise to some degree to get along with other people. There’s not only one way to do things.”
What she said spoke perfectly to my needs, and I walked away deeply grateful. For that two minutes, she was the spiritual teacher that I needed.
Another great day with the SWRC staff.
Yesterday at the gym I made these notes. A T-shirt created for a women’s basketball team has this on the back: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” I expressed my appreciation and kept moving.
One person at the equipment desk I had seen many times; we had hardly said hello. But I saw her walking toward the stairs after her shift yesterday, and I had seen her enough to ask this question: “What’s the secret to your inner strength?” Taken aback, she asked me the same question, to which I replied, “Faith.” She said, “That’s a good one.” And after a bit more thought she said, “Courage.” “How did you develop your courage?” A little more thought, and then she said, “There were things that happened to my family. And I decided I was going to be stronger.” I congratulated her and shared my observation that she also had faith—her smile was full of the spirit—and she had expressed approval of my answer. She confirmed my observation; we told our names; and that was it.
The last story is of particular interest. A barrel-chested guy working out in the weight room had a T-shirt that said BEMOREHUMANBEMOREHUMANBEMOREHUMAN repeating like that for about a dozen rows down the front of his shirt. I expressed appreciation for this shirt and asked, “What does that mean to you?” I asked. “Oh, I really don’t know what it means,” he replied. I let that go. After finishing my work on one machine, he was still around the one next to me, and I went back. I picked up the thread. “I think that that it’s about human dignity. Some people say, ‘He’s only human,” implying that you can expect mediocrity from human beings. But I believe that it means something great to be a human being. There’s a tremendous dignity in it. Some people who are mistreated say, ‘He didn’t treat me as a human being.’ That implies that to be a human being implies that we deserve to be treated well.”
He said, “I think it’s about compassion.” I congratulated him on his interpretation and we left it at that.
What strikes me is the fact that he really did have a good interpretation, but responded initially in a way that was minimally pretentious, in some ways a standard casual response. That’s the mode of social interaction that has me thinking.
And on it goes. There are lots more stories.