The guy creeped me out. He was a new employee at the Y, a small guy with beady eyes and scraggly beard wearing a baseball cap. His clothes hung loosely on his thin body. Dark holes occupied spaces meant for teeth. He took his breaks outside, grabbing a quick smoke. Everything about him led me to believe he lived a rough life. I could easily imagine him on a street corner with a cardboard sign or in an alley passed out drunk.
I felt a little sorry for him at first, assuming addictions had gotten the best of him, stealing the good out of his life. But then it seemed like he lingered at whatever machine I happened to be using. When I was on the bike, he plugged into the outlet directly behind me. If I was on the sit up bench, he was vacuuming in front of it. When I was doing leg curls, he washed the windows behind me.
What really did me in was that he never said anything, not one word. He was just always there. Hovering. Those beady eyes looking my direction, making me uneasy without a "Good morning" or "Hi" or anything.
I did my best to ignore him, but after a few weeks he braved a sort of communication with me. He'd huff and wipe his brow as I sweat away on the elliptical machine. One day he noticed I'd taken off my glasses and wiggled his own, pointing at me.
I was polite, always responding, but didn't risk actually talking to the man. I didn't want to encourage anything. I did what I came to do, let him do his job, and kept an eye on where he was, making sure we were never in the room alone.
Then one day as I pedaled away, my attention was drawn to a woman's voice near me. She was talking with him, or rather, she was talking and asking him questions, and he was making motions she tried to interpret. And suddenly I felt like the biggest loser.
DUH! The man was deaf!
What was the matter with me? Why did I find him creepy and assume the worst about a guy I knew nothing about just because he didn't interact in a normal way? Why did I see only his outside, not the real person beneath the tough exterior?
How many times have I done this before, gotten a wrong impression of someone? This man's weakness is visible (Why did it take me so long to see it?), but most of us have hidden issues causing us to act a certain way. How many people have I dismissed without knowing what's really causing their behavior, without seeing the real person?
How many times have I unfairly judged and gotten the wrong impression?
The guy at the Y doesn't creep me out anymore. Now we wave hello and good bye. He'll motivate me to keep going, pumping his arms, when I look like I'm pooping out. Once I even tried out a remnant of sign language I remembered from twenty years ago when I had a deaf student. I told him "thank you" as he held the door for me. The only other sign I remember is "rest room" and I'm afraid if I did that to him he'd find ME creepy.
I pray God gives me His eyes to see people how He does. I pray He helps me look past the outside and see the person within. And I thank Him for the daily reminder in the Y guy not to jump to conclusions.