Mind Monsters (and the gentle soul who helped slay mine at the gym)
September 5, 2018
(This one is old - I wrote it two years ago now, I think...and it's not about dogs, it's about life, but I share both kinds of stories here these days...so here you go. I hope it might help you slay your own Monster.)
It was one of those mornings at the gym.
The sort where, when you pass the mirrors in the locker room and catch sight of yourself as you pass, you kind of wince seeing all the things you don't like that you think need enormous improvement. Wishing you had worn the other t-shirt. Noticing that one sock is purple and the other is orange (who WEARS those colors together?) and figuring that's probably because you always screw things up so why would your socks be any different.
I don't know if this happens to you, maybe it's just my brain that plays this game, but I find that in my head lives an enormous and immortal 17-headed crazy-eyed monster with literally no sense of humor or compassion AND an endless and wildly inventive ability to find never-ending faults of all sorts in body, mind, and character. Who never ever sleeps. Monster takes no holidays, and was in stinky fire-breathing form this morning.
I kept telling it to shut up. But it kept screaming and flailing about between my eyes with the fury of an angry under-slept toddler. You’re ugly! Your butt’s too big! You nose is enormous! You’re so SLOW! You call those PULL UPs? What’s that, I hear - oh that’s right, it’s the Abs machine LAUGHING AT YOU.
Finally, as I was finishing up the last few minutes of the workout, I gave up. Surrendering to Monster, the gigantic waves of feeling rotten about, well, everything started crashing over me faster than I could stick my head up through the water to see the sun again.
Then I saw him. And his gentle, measured, gait. And his strong, ever-so-dignified frame in a neat kelly-green polo shirt and pressed khakis, bent over, his weight supported and steadied by a mighty cane as he slowly (but with dedicated absolute purpose) made his way across the floor.
I watched, as he continued towards the paper towels station - where he took one from the wall - turned round and headed back to (as all the signs will tell you) wipe off his machine. He was handsome, and strong, and elegant …just so incredibly elegant. And as he passed me, he looked up - right into my eyes - and said ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? Such a beautiful day!’.
And I smiled, and said ‘Yes! Yes it really is!'. And he smiled back, even bigger, then continued on his way.
And suddenly, I realized. Something incredible had happened. Something new, and terrifying. And wonderful.
My brain was filled with gratitude instead of criticism. It was bursting with it, really. What an incredibly beautiful feeling! What a gift he gave to me! With those few words, with his strength and joy his optimism and perspective, he’d managed to do what I could not.
He had silenced the Monster.
This gentle man working out with his cane, asking not a thing from me but a smile, generously and kindly reminding me of the beauty in the day, brought tears to my eyes. Tears of gratitude. And for the first time in as long as I can remember, tears of compassion too. Compassion, for the first time, for me.
I thought of all the times I’ve heartlessly and repeatedly, with absolute certainty, told this body, this brain, these legs, these arms, this face (among other things) that they are hideously ugly, horribly stupid, inflexible, screwed up, weird, strange, slow, freakish, heavy, pointless, worthless, talent-less, just LESS less. Good lord, I’ve done it my whole life. With the help of the Monster, it’s just always how I’ve lived. It has always been my truth. And still, during all those times, as I screamed those horrible things to myself again and again and again, my poor little body, my brain, my legs, arms, face and soul have dusted themselves off, picked themselves up, and kept doing their best for me, anyway. How dare I not be grateful for that gift?
Who saw THIS coming on the freaking pull-up machine?
As I gathered my things to leave, I kept trying to think of what to say to him, how to say thank you. After all, it’s not everyday that someone helps you slay a Monster. How do you say thank you to a stranger for something like that? But as I came out of the locker room, there he was, now taking his turn on the pull-up machine. So I simply looked at him, and said ‘Excuse me, I just wanted to say thank you for making me smile and for reminding me what a beautiful day it is today.”.
He smiled the most enormous grin ever, and said warmly, ‘You made me smile too! It IS a beautiful day! And you too are so beautiful! You are a beautiful girl!’.
Again, he made me cry. We talked, and shared. I learned he is a former Marine, so dignified and strong. He has two sons, who are marines as well. I said thank you for that, too.
He is just so wonderful.
I feel so grateful and so blessed. And while I know that the Monster is not gone for good (that's a lifelong war I might always fight), I can say, with absolute certainty, that it IS gone for today. That incredible man, the elegant slayer of Monsters and the giver of smiles, told me I am beautiful.
Today, for a change, I’m going to try to believe him.
Enjoy this beautiful day, my friends. You are all so beautiful, too.