I’ve done myself a favor this year and skipped the resolutions. Or more honestly, I’ve had too much going on in my head to give this New Year’s tradition even a fleeting thought. So when a perky woman far fitter than me struck up a conversation on the topic in the gym locker room, I was surprisingly honest and fessed up to my ‘resolutionless’ state.
“Do you have any resolutions?” I returned, expecting a conversation about fitness goals.
“No,” she admitted, “But if I were to make one,” she began, slowly thinking about the idea, “It would be to help my boyfriend live through the year.” I soon learned that her boyfriend had been diagnosed with cancer a few years back, had undergone chemo last year. He had been declared cancer-free. Their absolute joy ended when a routine check-up revealed that the cancer was back with a vengeance.
This bright woman before me in her orange tank top, sleek body and model-like face was facing the very real prospect of death taking her partner away from her. Wherever I had been in my head, I was now completely present, listening to her. When she finished her story, we looked at each other in companionable silence. I opened my arms and she stepped into them for a hug.
We talked further as we left the locker room and I shared a bit of what was going on with me. She listened without judgment and one more hug was exchanged before we moved on to our work outs.
I found myself at the gym a week later, planning to run on the treadmill as fast I could to clear my mind of its clutter and address the pent up energy in my body. An employee was cleaning the last two unused treadmills, and I greeted him as I waited. We chatted about the dirt that collects on all of the equipment. He said something else, and I didn’t understand his heavily-accented Dutch.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said in perfect English with a smile on his face.
“Oh. Yes,” I replied. This was pretty much a conversation stopper. He had moved onto spraying down the next treadmill anyway, so I began my workout.
Did he know he was referring to words uttered during a burial service? Speaking of death? That we are all mortal, that we all return to ashes and dust? Of course he did. I had heard these words so many times in my life, and thanks to Hollywood and my number of years on this planet, they have moved across the scale from profound to somber, predictable to trite. Now they had swung back to profound.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
Had this man spoken out of context? I mean, he was simply cleaning dust off of machines at his work place. But no. Not at all. His words spoke of the present moment and the transience of all things: worries, life stage, the windows, the building, the treadmill, you, me. We will all return to dust. I half expected him to disappear, to have been a figment of my imagination. He had moved on to vacuuming.
Happy Freaking New Year.
I know I sound rather somber, but I’m sharing these encounters for a reason. Here’s some other words you’ve heard a thousand times both on and off the silver screen: Know the value of life; it is a present not to be taken for granted.
Can I do that? Now that would be a hell of a resolution.