I was in the gym today and I saw a man in a big blue hoodie. It first caught my attention because it was odd to see a man in a hoodie at the gym; he presented a little disheveled. I refocused toward my workout and I went on as usual. I noticed him again. This time I noticed his slightly baggy blue jeans, big blue hoodie, and a gold necklace. I was starting my cardio so I refocused again and got started. I usually go to the gym in the mornings and notice it was getting a little more packed than usual. I like my space and usually go to the back of the gym to use the treadmill as they’re not in use as frequently which again gives me space (sometimes I use my workouts to meditate as well, which again is why I like my space… Okay, Okay, I know yall get it lol). But today they filled up rather quickly, not sure why other than it being the afternoon and I usually work out in the morning. At this point I was wishing I hadn’t woken up late but decided to give myself some grace by saying “You are here now. That’s all that matters” and got back into it. I was just finishing up my treadmill workout and was preparing to move to the next exercise and noticed the man and the big blue hoodie again, only this time he was coming toward me, heading to the back of the gym as I was going towards the disinfectant towels. I decided to smile. He went on about his business and went to an empty treadmill next to a man in black shorts and a man in a bright orange shirt. By this time I was getting started with my next workout and notice the man in the black shorts started to look uncomfortable and then moved to another treadmill far away from the man in the big blue hoodie. I became curious at to why the man moved and started to feel a bit offended for him. My mind began to turn with reasons of why. As I was thinking, the man with the big blue hoodie, stopped his treadmill workout shortly after and moved to something else. It had only been about 2 min. (Trust me I was paying attention because I was struggling through my current exercise) I started to wonder how the man in the big blue hoodie might be feeling. I began to replay all the times I noticed the man and realized the man was by himself and no one was around him most times; not by choice, I assumed, because he would migrate toward people. Which was odd to me because, like I said, the gym was getting over populated at this point. I thought “how isolating”. Were people not around him because his outfit didn’t fit appropriate gym attire, where they judging him due to him “not fitting in”, where they fearful of him, where they just minding their own business, no matter the intention how did the man in the big blue hoodie feel about it? Was he unbothered, was he hurt, was it his norm, was he accustomed to it? Then I thought ,as a mental health professional, should have talked with him. Would that have been weird? Am I leaping to assumptions? For all I know this man could have left his workout clothes at home,was dedicated and decided to push through. But none of that matters because at the end of the day, if this man was just trying to workout and be around people in the process – what feels like a safe place for most, could feel scary for others, including the man with the big blue hoodie. This man could be any person struggling with any issue from depression, anxiety, coping, addiction, and any other mental health issues. What if he was dealing with feelings of sadness and was trying to feel better by going to the gym because most people know that can be a helpful coping skill and he just felt worst due people’s judgments and fears? What if was recovering from something, and was trying to find a healthy way to cope, and instead felt more isolated which triggered his deep-dark insecurities? What if he didn’t have the money to buy gym clothes but really wanted to workout and decided to go for it and then he felt shame and feeling of “I’m not good enough”? We all can relate, we’ve all been there. But can we relate to those feelings with someone we have never met? There can be a list of reasons but at the end of the day, we have to be mindful of how we treat people. Even in spaces such as the gym. Be mindful, not only of your words and what you say, but your actions such as your non-verbal communications and tone of voice. Non-verbal communications can make a person feel just as bad as words. Don’t believe me? Think of a time when you walked into a place and you felt ignored, or someone looked at you and made a face, or stared for too long. Still can’t relate? Think of any other situation where some one or some place made you feel uncomfortable, without saying anything directly mean but the look and tone said enough.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong. Everyone wants to feel accepted for who they are and where they are. The man in the big blue hoodie is someone’s son, could be someone’s brother, uncle, cousin, father, friend, loved one. He matters to someone, just like someone matters to you and you matter to others. Please extend grace and compassion when you can. Even if its just a smile.

As I was driving home, I saw the man in the big blue hoodie walking. I prayed for him on my journey and wished him safety, compassion, and joy on his way.

To the man the the big blue hoodie. You matter to me.

*Have you practice compassion toward a stranger today? If so how?