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By Tim Clark

Last week, at the gym, I had finished my workout and was enjoying my protein bar and bottle of water. It’s funny how much a creature of habit I’ve become. I know a protein bar is filled with calories, and not as effective as a shake, but it tastes better. Sometimes, if we are out of protein bars I will take one of those granola bars that are just short of being candy. I might try to sneak in some donuts, and chocolate milk…But, that isn’t what this is about. This is about how we look at life.

I was sitting by the track that surrounds the area with all of the weights, resistance machines and aerobic equipment. Walking slowly around the track was an older couple, even older than me.

He was struggling to make it, pushing himself, lap after lap, fighting an uphill battle. She was walking behind him, her long, grey hair tied in a ponytail, exposing big hoop earrings and a leather necklace strap that disappeared into the flowery, flowing pastel shirt. There is a three-foot high wall that separates the track from all of the weights and equipment. There was a large opening in front of the chairs and tables where I sat. They stopped there after each lap.

He would stretch his tired sore muscles using the end of the wall as a support, his own gray ponytail falling over his shoulder. One leg way back the other bent at the knee right below his shoulders. His gray sweat pants were old and had paint spots. But, he was working hard. He would grimace at each stretch. She stood off to the side dancing with slow, patterned arm movements, small, short repeated steps. It almost resembled tai chi.

After a few minutes they were off again. He was “picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down” with grim determination, she was walking behind him, speaking softly, sometimes not saying anything at all. Smiling, reaching out and touching his shoulder occasionally. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

What did they see when they looked at each other? Not the old, odd couple I saw, certainly. What kind of filter were they looking through? With just a little effort I saw what they might have been looking at. Two people who had built a life together, raised kids, worked hard, and were fighting one step, stretch, and dance move at a time to stay together. I wanted to say something, to congratulate them, to express my admiration. But, I didn’t. I hope to see them again.

A while ago my wife and I were at the grocery store. We heard this tiny voice, “Hi”, from another aisle. It was repeated, randomly, but often. We heard it at different places in the store. We smiled at each other, it was beautiful.

We ran into the source of the wandering greeting. A little boy, walking through the store. He had Down Syndrome, my wife said. We said, “hi” back to the little boy and he was off to greet someone new. We ran into them in the checkout line. My wife had worked with the boy’s mother. “Hi,” he said again, and then showed us a toy. A professional wrestler action figure. He was excited, so excited I couldn’t understand a word he said as he explained the toy. His mother told my wife he had “had a potty breakthrough” and the action figure was a reward.

When that little boy looked at people, every person in the store, he saw a friend. He saw somebody who was going to be just as excited as he was about his professional wrestler action figure reward. His heart was golden, his vision was perfect, even if the world wasn’t. The world could never match the beauty he saw, would never be able to live up to his vision. But, for a little boy, for a little while, there were friends everywhere. It still makes me smile.

I have a friend, my oldest friend, who is blind. He lost his vision gradually, over years. The world got darker and smaller until one day it just vanished. He sees everything with his heart. We had a lot of fun when we were younger, and we still have a lot of fun. It’s just more sedate now. He probably sees me as what I used to be, younger, healthier, still able to run up and down a basketball court.

I don’t always recognize the old, wrinkled, overweight guy with no mustache standing in the mirror looking at me, neither would my friend. I’ve always wanted to ask which version of me he is looking at when we talk. I still haven’t figured out how to ask. “How attractive am I?” just sounds a little suspect. It’s all in the phrasing.

Maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe beauty is in those beheld. Everybody has the opportunity to make someone smile. If you look into the world of a small child with an action figure all you will see is a world of happy, smiling faces who are delighted for his good fortune. Nothing could be closer to art. Try seeing the world through the eyes of an old married couple (and I am very good at that) who just want to be together as long as possible and you will see the future and the past intertwined so tightly you can’t separate them. Life imitates art, and art is inspired by life, and if you try you can find both everywhere you look.

Tim Clark is a writer, blogger, novice political activist, husband and father, from Columbus, Ohio.  He has proudly written for Street Speech, a local homeless advocacy newspaper and Lefty Pop.


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