Once Upon A Time I Saw Real Joy

By | June 4, 2013

The coolest you’ll ever be is when you don’t give half a hell about who is watching or what they are thinking.

Can I get an amen?

For the last two months I have spent a good deal of time working out. It’s been a sort of therapy for me–training my body to be better, stronger, and more resilient. It’s the first time, really, since I was about sixteen years old that I could be 100% healthy. I realize that’s a rather vague thing to say, so the short story is that I’ve been recovering from or looking forward to surgery, pregnancy, and childbirth, illness, and handicaps, and then addiction for the last 10-15 years. Quite the eventful decade and a half for my body.

Anywho, I went to the gym a lot in the last month. I hired a personal trainer to help me learn the best exercises for my weird body and it’s SO fun to feel progress in the form of strength. For me, this is more about seeing what my body can actually do than it is about losing weight or looking good. Of course, those byproducts are welcome at any time. {Seriously, any. time.}

I feel joy when I can bust out thirty minutes of cardio and think, “heck, lets do another ten!” These sorts of things make me smile.


People don’t really smile at the gym. I’ve noticed that the gym is a place where people zone into themselves, look at their bodies, and think only of their progress. It’s not a bad thing, per se, but it is a strange phenomenon when you stop to think about it. I ponder all these sweating bodies and know they each of them have their story. A struggle, a triumph, a set-back. It’s all there.

But all I can really know about them is that they are at the gym–for whatever reason–and they’re serious about it.

Maybe they’ll receive a funny text and their face will momentarily unfold of its scrunched-up-working-out-breathing-hard expression. They’ll see a friend and “Hey! How’s it goin’!” But as soon as the exchange is over they are back to serious gym behavior. No pain no gain.

I had this wonderful experience a few weeks ago.

I saw someone smiling in the gym. And this wasn’t a creepy old man leering at me from behind the water cooler. {Seriously, dude. Gross.} No, fortunately it wasn’t that.

Here’s what happened.

So I’m over in the free-weight section pumping iron with a bunch of stoic gym rats. I’m the only gal in a weight room crowded with males. I’m really rocking the sumo squats with a 30 lb. dumbbell. Like, really.

I’m also wondering how often people accidentally fart while doing sumo squats.

That’s when I hear it.

Nope, not a fart. {Thank God.} Singing.

Not really great singing, but enthusiastic singing.

Have you ever heard someone sing in the gym?

Sometimes in college, there’d be a super-duper-tight coterie of choir kids working on their biceps. They would sing. This was before Glee, so it generally made everyone feel uncomfortable. Now it’d be trendy. Back then it was just weird. This was different.

This guy was by himself. Choir people aren’t so brave by themselves.

“Don’t stop—BE—–LEEEEEEAAAAAV—-ing! Hold onto that feeling!” 

Journey. The best way I’ve ever heard it.

He looked about 23 years old. He was walking, very fast, at an incline, on the treadmill. He was a young man with Down syndrome. He was beautiful.

He walked and sang for at least another hour. Everything from Bon Jovi to Beyonce, he knew all the words. He was never out of breath either–a tribute to his cardiovascular health. I turned my own playlist off so that I could just hear him.

Let me say this. I’ve spent a lot of my days in the gym. In college when I was battling the “freshman fifteen,” before my wedding when I desperately needed to fit in my dress, after having Coco, when a spare tire just wouldn’t budge. There have been many hours in the gym.

When I’m eighty-four years old and someone asks me if I ever went to the gym–this is the memory I will retain. The guy on the treadmill singing.

Really, it’s the only one that matters.

Joy. Joy in the mundane. Joy in the midst of a bunch of introspective, sweaty, serious people. The image of it will stick with me.

I don’t know if this behavior was something he learned in his upbringing. Something his parents encouraged in him. Perhaps it was just a really shiny facet of his personality that happens to glow with endorphins.

I don’t know.

Whatever it was, I loved it.

I thought to myself, if I could just enjoy an hour a day like this guy does I would be living life to it’s fullest. 

I would be joyful.

What would my marriage be like if I was that joyful? What would  my kids be like? What could I accomplish?

Joy is contagious.

I smiled–a big, wide, toothy smile throughout the rest of my workout. I loved being in the gym at the same time as this brilliant guy.

I wanted to go up and hug him. Thank him for brightening my day and life with his invaluable lesson. That he could be so happy doing something like walking on the treadmill at an incline. Mindblowing, right? Hearing your favorite song and being thankful that you can match the beat with a bouncy step.

I should always smile in the gym. I should always remember where I came from. Remember the days of pain, the days of being “handicapped,” the days of being shackled to a diagnosis. The days of depression. The days of addiction. The days of recovery.

You never know how long you have in each phase of life. Sometimes it feels forever. Daily, I remember the suffering I experienced with rheumatoid arthritis. I pinch myself because it’s gone. Shouldn’t this bring me so much joy that I can do simple things like bulk up my biceps?

The answer: yes. So DO IT! Feel that joy. Live it. Sing it. For crying out loud. Don’t stop believing. Hold onto that feeling.

Thank you, totally awesome guy in the gym who taught me something s0 profound.

Definitely worth seeing. Have you ever had a wakeup call in a totally random place like the gym? I’d love to hear.

16 thoughts on “Once Upon A Time I Saw Real Joy

  1. Ashley

    I’m literally on my way out the door to the gym right now. And this made me think that maybe I won’t be so uptight and embarrassed in my step class. Love this. Hugs.

  2. adrienne

    SO, I’ve landed back here gain today. SO glad I did! This story makes me smile. What an amazing reminder to not give a crap what other people think and find joy in everyday life. I want to hug this guy too and you, for sharing your take on the gym. So much better than any gym story I’v ever heard. ????

  3. Bethany @ Bad Parenting Moments

    What an amazing story and a beautiful reminder. I’m so pleased you were able to experience this JOY in a place generally void of it. Gifts of the universe are powerful and apparently, so are your gluts. GO YOU.

  4. Angela@JumpingWithMyFingersCrossed

    Don’t stop believing! Love this post. It made me happy.

  5. Esther

    I love that story. Unfortunately, I don’t have any gym stories like that..it’s so true that people don’t smile, and are rather wrapped up in themselves at the gym. I mostly feel self conscious at the gym, which is probably why I haven’t gone in about two years. Well, that and having my 3rd baby. ????

  6. Student Mom (Jenn)

    You should have! Given him a hug and thanked him. He would have beamed for the rest of the week.

  7. Natalia

    Great story, so cute! And so true, thanks for passing it on!

  8. Rachael

    I love random gym dudes. (Not the creepers, we all know there are plenty of those… everywhere.) I’m talking the random happy gym-goers who just love breaking a sweat. Sometimes, I like to hope I’m one of them. I don’t belt out my jams like your homie, but I smile ear-to-ear when I’m having a good run on the dreadmill or lifting more weight than I ever had previously.

  9. Larks

    What an awesome moment! Joy is so important and yet so hard to capture sometimes. Once I saw a woman in a straight laced business suit dance in the aisle of the grocery store. I was like, “You go, lady! Celebrate like there’s no tomorrow!”

  10. HouseTalkN

    I love this so hard! Random acts of singing/dancing make me so happy! I broke out in a dance at the grocery and 2 other women joined me. Heaven, I tell you.

  11. Casey

    This was such a blessing for me to read today! Thank you for sharing it and recognizing the profoundness of that experience!

  12. Chris Carter

    Funny you talk about the gym in that way of your experience… I have been going to the gym for over 20 years- at each gym I attended, I met people that would become best friends, and many who were a daily blessing. I can’t help but notice people and greet them with a smile and they often engaged with more smiles and responses to my questions.

    The man who married me and my husband- became one of my best friends over him sharing struggled with an adoptive teen.

    My still best friend of 15 years once took me homemade chicken noodle soup when I hardly knew here- I didn’t show at the gym and she knew I must have been really sick to miss the gym! It was THEN that I fell in love with her!! (She even looked up my address to find me- left it on my doorstep to not bother me…with homemade cookies too)

    Oh the list of blessings and people go on and on…

    I suppose there were so many other people that were in their own little serious world, but I loved meeting people and the gym was more than a “work out”… it was a place to discover new souls and lives that grew my heart muscle more than any work out ever could.


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