New Beginnings Can Be Hard, Unless You’re Willing to Reach Out

A random conversation reminded me of the power of human connection

“Have you tried the yoga class?”

The question came from behind me. I’d been busily digging in a gym locker, attempting to retrieve my heavy coat and gym bag before stepping into the inclement weather. Her question had startled me.

I turned around and noticed a bundled-up shadow crouching in the corner. Gazing at me like a frightened child, the woman was small, thin, frail. Clothed from head-to-toe in winter garb, I noticed grey tufts of hair poking out from a furry hat tightly-drawn around her wrinkled face.

She wore thick glasses, and her cautious eyes searched my own. A whisper of a woman, she seemed to be hugging the wall, as if for comfort and support. We were the only two people in the room.

“No, I haven’t,” I said, offering a smile. “What time do they hold the class?”

“5:30–7:30, I think,” she replied.

I paused for a few moments. “That’s probably why I’ve never gone. Not a good time for my schedule.” I turned back to the locker, focused on grabbing my gear and heading home.

Chastising myself for not remembering my manners, I turned back to her. “How long have you been a member?” I asked.

Her eyes brightened, her expression softening. “I just joined. I’ve been afraid to come in for the first time, but here I am.”

“Well, welcome to the gym! Nice to meet you,” I offered.

“My husband died in March,” she continued. “He came here a lot. I used to pick him up when he was done with his workouts.”

An awkward silence filled the room.

“Driving here was hard,” she said. “I used to bring my dog to keep me company. Even he got nervous when I pulled into the parking lot.”

My heart sank. “I’m sorry for your loss. And I’m glad you found the courage to try.” It was all I could think of to say.

A tiny smile graced her deeply-lined face.

“My husband and I are visiting the area,” I said. “The first thing we did was sign up for a short-term gym membership so we could meet the locals and stay on track with our exercise routine.”

She was silent, then nodded her head slightly.

“Hope to see you again,” I offered. And I truly meant it.

Grabbing my coat and gym bag, I left the locker room, deeply touched by this short encounter with another human.

I’ve been thinking about our conversation for days, and the circumstances that brought us together. 

My husband and I had been going to that gym for three weeks. Being past the half-century mark, we both know how important it is to do what we can to stay healthy. We’d met a few folks, knew some by name, and always enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

During my workouts, I’d noticed the music playing in the background, the clanging weight stacks, and the squeaky pulleys of machines being used by other members. Occasionally glancing at the wall mirrors, I noticed which treadmills and ellipticals were being used, and whether my favorites were open.

I’d noticed the soft floor padding in the yoga room, where I’d do my warm-up and cool-down stretches. I noticed which programs were playing on the half-dozen TV screens scattered throughout the various rooms of the facility.

And with laser-like focus, I’d adjusted my exercise routine accordingly, moving throughout the various rooms of the facility with my own personal agenda at the forefront.

But somehow, on that day, I hadn’t noticed the brave woman who was trying to make her way back into the world, a step at a time. 

I didn’t take notice of someone who may have wished she was invisible. 

A living, breathing human who — in my now-awakened subconscious mind — had been quietly creeping to the entryway of each room to take a look inside. Still wearing her coat, hat, and boots, and clutching her handbag tightly against her stomach, she’d been trying to convince herself to cross the threshold and feel the life inside her stirring once again.

In my own self-indulgent mindset, I’d been too focused on my own needs — too quick to dismiss the circle of connections just outside my own bubble of importance. And I almost missed out on the experience of sharing the pain, fear, and desperation lying beneath the shattered surface of another person.

In hindsight, I realized that if she hadn’t found the strength to reach out to me — if she’d stayed in her cocoon of loss and hopelessness — neither of us would have strayed beyond our boundaries. 

Neither of us would have tested our comfort zones — and bumped them out just a little bit farther.

One woman’s brave gesture became a much-needed wake-up call. One I’ll never forget.

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