Working out at a gym is an intentionally intimate practice: listen to your breath; stretch your muscles; raise your heart rate; push yourself. It’s necessary, this self-care, to be able to walk and lift with confidence, to sleep well, to control weight. Despite the focus on oneself, exercise is, however, done amid people arriving, leaving, working, playing—living.
“How is your son doing?”
“You must be excited about your up-coming trip.”
“Did you have a good Christmas with your daughter?”
The other morning through floor to ceiling windows from my perch on an exercise bike, I witnessed a cutting from life to remind me of a line from Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
“All these lives,” she said. “All the stories we never know (125).”
Cars lined up diagonally in two rows in a parking lot. Vehicles rolled along a four lane street lined with small businesses. Directly across the lot was a building under renovation. Over successive months workers had replaced the roof and the exterior walls of the long neglected building, their work slowly transforming what had been a run down bar into a coffee shop.
On that particular chilly morning — during the hiatus between Christmas and New Years when people go to work or shop — three men were working on siding on the north wall of the building.
Two burly men stood on an orange boom lift platform: the man with a nail gun wore a lime green hoodie under a navy jacket; the other man with a hammer wore a brown hooded jacket. One man was slim and had a short blond beard; his lime colored hood flashed against the bland siding, a bright contrast next to the brown jacketed man, whose dark face, framed by his thick jacket hood, appeared weathered, his body heavy. The men’s foggy exhalations floated into the icy air.
Below beside a red pick up truck and a stack of siding was a worker in a red jacket who was sending boards up via a vertical lift to the two men.
The rhythmic placement of siding beginning at the parking lot with the red jacketed man had suddenly stopped three boards down from the roof’s edge. The two workers on the high platform turned and stood facing the parking lot below. The darker, larger man in the brown jacket lit a cigarette and leaned forward, his right hand gesturing as he smoked with it, his left arm folded across the platform’s railing, his body bent as if a great weight had fallen upon his back.
The lime green hooded man placed his left hand on his companion’s shoulder and leaned slightly toward him. He then moved and rested his arm across the brown man’s shoulders. The darker man raised his left hand to his eyes as if to wipe them. His shoulders convulsed with sobs. He kept wiping his face. The finished cigarette dropped to the ground below. The two men stood side to side, a suspended silence holding them together until they parted. They lightly punched each others’ shoulders. They looked down at the red jacketed man who reached for and sent up another board.
They took the board, lifted it into place, aligning and nailing it. Another board rose toward them.
The exercise cycle has a timer. I had been cycling for twenty-four minutes. Yoga class was next.