By STEVE DABROWSKI
IT SEEMS TO ME
My hamstring popped – something I always thought was just an expression. I thought I had given myself enough time to heal, but as I exerted the hamstring, it gave an odd popping sensation followed by pain. I attempted to stretch it out and “walk it off,” but no Bueno; it was injured.
“You okay?” I looked up to see an older man, someone I’d describe as a senior citizen, sitting on a weight machine nearby. Not wanting to appear weak, I made a joke, “Yeah, I reinjured a hamstring. I guess that’s why God gives us two legs instead of one.” His reply caught me off guard. Tapping on his right leg, he said, “Yep, this one’s fake,” and he shifted his attention to the other, “and this one has a brace on it.”
“How old are you?” The old man seemed truly interested. “I’m 53. How about you?” “80!” I am confident this gentleman was good-naturedly amused that a man 30 years his junior with two good legs was limping around the gym while he continued to workout. “You’re what I aspire to,” I told him, “I hope I can do what you’re doing when I’m 80.”
Eighty years old; one prosthetic leg; the other in a brace; and there he was in the gym, working out and showing concern for another person. Look, I don’t know much about this man; but his example raises a new standard for me. To this point, my workouts have been about keeping my weight, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers down in hopes of living long enough to guide my young daughter into womanhood over the next 20 years. But this man is five years past my goal, and he is not only alive, he is consistently conquering limitations and building strength for a future of who knows how many more years. He is a living sign of grace and encouragement.
As I pondered my gym companion, my thoughts turned to Patty and Paul. I met this couple as we passed during long walks around the Catholic Center. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but I’m pretty sure both of my walking friends are in their 70s. Most days following morning Mass, they stop at the Catholic Center for exercise. In the fall and early spring when the weather is more pleasant, they walk at lunchtime, which is when I first met them. They, too, are living signs of grace and encouragement.
Most of us have asked God for a sign at one time or another, but it seems to me that we sometimes overlook signs that point us to existential goods. I get so caught up looking for a sign about some specific issue I’m facing that it is easy for pain, frustration or fear to draw my attention away from those many wonderful individuals who show me what a good life is all about. Life is worth living, and that means we’re called to actually live it.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa that life is proven by self-motion. The man at the gym and Patty and Paul could easily choose to stay at home watching TV, basking in the fruits of earlier days. Instead, they march on (literally) choosing to keep living while they are alive; after all, there is a real distinction between living and being alive. Had they chosen to resign themselves to old age, they would not be examples to people like me; and their actions have resulted in a paradigm shift in my thinking – a shift that refuses to see a set time as being old enough to settle down or a lost appendage as an excuse to stop being active. Life is proven by autonomous motion; and that motion is meant to continue, in whatever ways we are able, until we draw our last breath.
In a world that undervalues life and exalts excuses, I am grateful for the witness of those whose examples of living have inspired me. Thanks to them, by God’s grace, life is revealed as a process to keep moving, both literally and figuratively, thus ultimately finding fulfillment in the One in whom all things live, move and have being.