Until a few weeks ago I used to go riding with a guy named Carl. Not on motorbikes. Not mountain bikes or even road bicycles. The bikes we rode were stationary and at the gym. Mine was a spinning bike (like the ones they have classes for); his was a recumbent – the kind with a seatback you can use as you peddle.
Our rides together were by no means scheduled; it just happened that he and I often were at the gym around the same time and our workout routines were such that we ended up together. Then he did something I was unhappy about and it all stopped.
I didn’t really know Carl, but considered him a friend. Not in the sense of borrowing money or sharing secrets. He was just a friendly face that over time I had gotten used to in a familiar place. He was a lot older than me (as are most members at my gym) – early 70s, as I recall.
When I first ran into him a couple years ago, he was sitting in a chair at the end of a row of treadmills, apparently spent from his workout. We exchanged glances, maybe nodded to each other and that was about it. Over time though, we became used to seeing each other; nods turned hi’s, which led to short conversations.
Age aside, Carl was in the autumn of his life, physically. That his health was failing was apparent. He moved slowly and seemed to rest more than he worked out. Yet I found myself impressed by this little old man. Though his body was betraying him, his outlook remained bright. More than once he spoke, uh… enthusiastically of the opposite sex. It warmed my heart to watch him respectfully chatting up the ladies of his generation with the eternal vigor that stays in a man’s mind, even when his body no longer can keep up. But his eye for the ladies was trumped by his engaging sense of humor and apparent desire to engage his physical self on the various machines at the gym.
In many ways I respected Carl – not for how hard he worked out (his body was long past any kind of strenuous enterprise). Instead, he instilled me with a sense of pride in self. We never talked about his motivations for coming to the gym like he did – whether it was doctor’s orders, a social outlet or just a habit he’d acquired over the years. Whatever the case, Carl provoked the notion that working out can be a life-long endeavor, one that doesn’t necessarily have to be rooted in humdrum notions like keeping fit, losing weight or other preventive health objectives. Sometimes it can just be fun – a way of being. Then he did something really disappointing.
One day while working out at the gym, I found myself looking at the bike Carl usually rode and realized I hadn’t seen him in a while. I pondered that thought for a moment then returned to my workout. About a week later on the gym’s bulletin board I noticed a newspaper clipping that included Carl’s photo. It was his obituary notice. Blood drained from my face as I read it. For a time he had been a fixture in my gym world and now he was gone. At least physically. In the following weeks I came to realize Carl’s spirit remained. Through our brief but personal interactions, he taught me a few simple things. Among them was to do what you enjoy, even if it’s a losing cause.