So one day I was at the gym and I had just gotten on the exercise bike. I was pedaling away mindlessly as I read my paperback book. Suddenly, a young boy sat down on the bike next to me. He looked to be only 12 or 13-years-old. The boy began to pedal and then I heard him say, “Hey, how do you program this thing?” I smiled and put my book down. As I leaned over to help him, though, I suddenly smelled this horrible, putrid, body odor.
Oh, my gosh, I thought, this poor boy. The smell was horrendous. I tried to compose my face into a smooth smile as I showed him how to set the controls. As I bit my lower lip to stop my eyes from watering, my mind was reminding me, “He’s a little kid. He’s just a kid. Don’t say anything. Don’t hurt his feelings.” I set the controls for the boy and then moved away. I sat up straight on my own bike and tried to focus on my book.
“Hey,” the boy said again, “how do I get it to go faster?” I leaned over again and tried to stop my hands from immediately covering my nose. I sniffed helplessly a few times. My mind started to chant, “He’s just a kid. He’s just a kid. Be kind. Be kind.” I forced a smile as I helped him set the speed level on the bike and then moved gratefully away.
Suddenly, the boy hopped off the bike. As he was walking away, he looked back over his shoulder and stated, “Well, that smell couldn’t be me. I showered this morning.” I stared at the boy as he walked out of the cardio area.
Wait a minute! Did that boy just tell me I smell bad….Well, the little…
I sat on my bike pedaling in stunned silence as I thought about the boy’s words. Even though the smell had faded away, I became a little paranoid. That’s not me. I’m sure it isn’t me…is it me? I took several deep breaths but didn’t smell anything. However, I was suddenly a little fearful.
I got off of the bike, ran back to the locker room, stripped out of my gym clothes, and immediately stood underneath the shower spray. Of course, that smell wasn’t me…I had showered that morning, too. And yet, I was amazed that the boy’s words could have such an effect on me. As I squeezed soap out of the dispenser hanging on the wall and scrubbed away at my skin, my mind began to spin. Why was I accepting the boy’s words as the truth, even though I knew that I was clean? And yet I suddenly didn’t feel so fresh.
I sighed heavily as I reminded myself again. “He’s just a kid. He’s just a kid.” His words meant nothing. But they said everything.
Though there are times that I say awkward things, I always try hard to sidestep other people’s feelings. Why do I feel sometimes, though, that my feelings get stomped on? But is that really true…or do I just allow other people’s opinions to affect me more than I should? Why would I ever allow someone else’s words, especially the words of a young boy, make me feel that there was something wrong or unacceptable about me? What does it matter if people make nasty comments at me or share cruel opinions? Isn’t it more important how I see myself? I knew I was clean and decent. I know I try to be a good person. Why would I ever let someone else’s words hurt me? The boy had nothing to do with my response to his remarks. That had been entirely my choice.
People are always going to say nasty things. They will criticize my hair, so I get it cut. Then they will criticize my weight, so I diet. Then they will criticize my clothes….when does it stop? It stops only when I choose not to listen or respond anymore. That’s just how people are. What people say to me isn’t about me; it’s about them. It’s about their insecurities. I realize that I really am just a reflection of how people see themselves. People may praise me. People may insult me. Which words I accept, though, are completely up to me.
…And that’s when I suddenly realized something. That poor kid. Was he being laughed at, ridiculed for his situation? Did he need someone to carry his shame for him for a while? I was suddenly pleased that I was there to share his burden with him for just a moment.
As I got out of the shower and wrapped myself in a towel, I started to laugh. I was over the initial shock of the situation and found the whole incident hysterical. Oh, my gosh, that funny little boy. I finished drying myself off and slowly got dressed. I felt good. I felt happy.
I smiled now about the boy who had taught me so much. The boy was just so insecure. I prayed that someone was taking care of him and teaching him to take care of himself. I hoped that he would soon learn to create his armor and protect himself from the unkind words of other people.
I finished getting dressed and then walked out of the gym. I smiled deeply. I was feeling happy, hopeful…and deeply cleansed.