When I rolled into the gym several mornings, ago I was hoping to get on my favorite recumbent bike because it allows me to do a good lower body work out without using my arms or putting any stress at all on my right shoulder as it continues to recover from rotator cuff surgery.
No such luck.
Both of “my” bikes were taken.
The rules are prominently posted: 30 Minute Limit on all machines when others are waiting.
A young woman was toweling herself off on one of the bikes, so I asked her if she was finishing or just starting.
“Just starting,” she answered quickly.
I was more than a little dubious.
So I looked at the sign-up sheet to see if one would be available the next half hour. No luck. They were signed up for through the morning.
So I settled for a treadmill, signed up for one and did a productive half hour there.
When I finished, the woman was still peddling away with no sign of slowing down, let alone stopping.
I contemplated telling her what the rule was, as if she could not read the signs. I contemplated giving her, what past congregants have called, “The Look,” which I am told is a fearsome stare when something distracts me during services. I have been working on putting that one away because no one has ever liked being on the receiving end of it.
But I restrained myself and said nothing and walked past her with my eyes down. I walked into the other room and did a little work with a jump rope, an exercise that my Physical Therapist has OK’d for me to do at this stage of my rehab.
A short while later, I left the gym, still fuming. “How could that person be so inconsiderate? I would bet dollars to doughnuts she had already been on the bike a half hour before I got there. Of all the nerve!”
As I walked out the door, I stopped in my tracks. A young man was walking in guided by his caretaker. He is blind and has braces on his legs. He also had a smile on his face.
I was so ashamed of myself I almost started to cry.
I had seen the young man before. His exercise routine consists primarily of being guided onto a treadmill and walking for a short while at about two miles per hour.
And there I was, inwardly pouting because another person overstayed her time on a machine I wanted to use.
In my work I have had umpteen occasions to be brought up short by my self-centeredness. I have seen so many people with debilitating handicaps live their lives focused on what they can do not on what they cannot.
And each time, I say to myself:
“I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”
Dear God, when will that lesson sink into my heart and brain?!
One of my very favorite prayers is from the Reform Movement’s Shabbat Manual.It is from the Havdalah service that takes leave of the joy and sanctity of Shabbat and returns us to our day-to-day world. It reads:
“Help me O God to distinguish between that which is real and enduring and that which is fleeting and vain!”
Ma’am, “You can stay on that bike as long as you want. There are plenty of other things that I can do.
(This essay originally appeared on the ReformJudaism.org blog.