The half dozen or so people were spread throughout the fitness center. Each one doing her, or his, own thing. Most were on some sort of cardio machine and only one other was over by the free weights of this Houston area Planet Fitness. I followed the unwritten rules of gym ettiquette (mostly because it wasn’t my regular gym) and worked out without engaging anybody in conversation.
It’s an interesting phenomenom, belonging to large nationwide gym. And with Planet Fitness’ “no gymtimidation” policy, most people work out in silence, with headphones on and only on occassion even making eye contact. Even then the eye contact is usually some sort of non-verbal communication around the use of a piece of equipment – not relationship…
Not here. Not Houston’s little PF on Fondren. Not with LeRoy.
Let’s face it, public locker rooms are always a bit awkward; and when you are leaving the shower area with your towel wrapped around your waist, you feel particularly vulnerable! Just saying… That’s how it was for me when I met LeRoy. Still sweating from my workout, but freshly showered before heading to the couple’s therapy training I’m in Houston for, I had my towel around my waist when I hear a southern accent say, “I don’ think I’ve seen you ‘roun’ here before?”
I look to my right and there before me is a tall, thin African American of about 60 years of age. He had a huge smile and held out his hand, “LeRoy.”
“Brian.” And inside my head there is only one word sreaming loudly, AWKWARD!!!
LeRoy asks when I moved to the area and I explained to him that I was here on sabbatical getting some training on couple’s therapy. LeRoy’s smile immediately is replaced with a look of deep regret.
While we both got ready for the day before us, LeRoy told me about his failed marriage, that he moved to Houston to try and rebuild relationships with his kids and grandchildren, and how much he regretted not working hard to make his marriage work. He was going to meet his two year old grandson for the first time later that day.
As I was getting ready to leave, he told me to learn a lot. Then he paused and asked, “Would you pray for me today? Maybe you have more pull with the Big Guy than I do.”
I’ve never prayed for anyone in a locker room before, at least I don’t think so, but I’m glad I did. I will probably never see LeRoy again. But I think our world is full of LeRoy’s. People, like you and me, going through life with its struggles and joys, hurts and pleasures, successes and failures.
And all of us longing to connect more deeply with one another and with God. Only very few of us will find the courage to step out of the unwritten rules of culture and become vulnerable enough to reach out and connect with others.
I’m really glad LeRoy had the courage to start a conversation in a locker room – even if it was awkward.