GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 15 – The Kindness of Strangers

Two months ago I was in an exercise class at the East YMCA in Austin. It’s a super tough class. It’s the hardest exercise I’ve done since I was in basketball training as a freshman in high school. One hour of non-stop cardio.

Normally I’m the only guy in the class but that day, I arrived to find another dude complete with a shaven head and 80s style headband. We normally pair up in the class and since I’m the only guy I’m almost always in a group of one. So I made sure to stand by this new guy so that when the time came, we’d be partners.

(Yes, I’m the person who always makes friends on airplanes.)

As soon as the instructor gave the word, we looked at each other and I said, “partners?”

He said, “Yes, but I’m new and didn’t understand most of what she said we’ll be doing at each of these stations.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve done them all a bunch. I’ll help you.”

The hour we spent exercising and talking was special. It turned out that he’s returning to grad school to become a therapist so I got a free session. I told him my recent tale of woe. He replied that he was surprised I had left the house let alone come to the class!

But talking to him wasn’t the most valuable part – it was hearing his story.

This poor fellow lost his HR job during the 2008 financial downturn. At almost the same time, his boyfriend left him. He couldn’t find good work and wound up taking a pizza delivery job at Domino’s. Then he contracted Legionnaire’s Disease and had to be hospitalized for two months; he spent the first month mostly unconscious and the second at home connected to an oxygen tank on wheels.

He woke up from that first month to learn that he’d been fired from Domino’s for no-call-no-show. Without work, we couldn’t make his mortgage payment. He asked the bank to please come repossess it so that his credit could be spared but was informed that they don’t do it that way – they can’t repossess until the third straight missed payment. And then of course it destroys your credit. That’s exactly what happened.

He lost his home, his job (twice!), his health and his partner all in about a four month span.

I was floored. I felt horrible for him and asked more questions. He wound up filing bankruptcy and has almost come out of it at this point. He’s returned to school to become a therapist and miraculously married his boyfriend – yes, the same one that had left him in 2008!

I thanked him for sharing all this with me. I told him I admired his resilience. He kindly told me that he thought my story was worse and more dramatic and said he couldn’t believe left the house let alone come to this difficult class. I tried to laugh and thanked him for listening.

We kept talking about these things until the end of the class.  When it was over, I hugged him and cried right in front of everyone. He hugged back hard and said, “Thank you for being so vulnerable. Never lose that.”

I may never see this guy again but that hour we spent together was a gift – hopefully for both of us.