*Names have been changed
The morning sunlight was just beginning to seep up to the horizon, swirling and mixing with the blue and white glow of the city at night. A man beside me held 2 lb weights that were as orange as the sunrise, a notable contrast to his dark skin and clothes.
My ears were still ringing from the proximity and enthusiasm of our opening cheer:
“Who are we? BACK ON MY FEET! How long we gonna run? FOREVEEEER!!”
Our group of 2 dozen or so broke from our huddle and feel like waves to the roads, Mizuno shoes pounding off into the distance. I stayed back to walk, grateful for the dark quiet of the city before the morning rush. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift to my warm bed, nonetheless enjoying Georgia’s warm winter winds.
“I’ve invented a new form of exercise equipment!”
I shook my head back to the present and found myself face to face with William*, walking backwards and creating circles in the air with an orange weight in each hand. I felt the tips of my mouth begin to creep upwards into a smile, but instead asked him to tell me more.
“It’s copywritten,” he began. “I’m working on a patent.”
He proceeded to explain the contraption to me in great detail. The exercise was to be called “Rod Aerobic Training*”.
“To be honest,” he admitted, “I stole a rod out of one of the closets at the shelter to create the staff. I tied knots around it so that you know where to put your hands.”
“It brings together the spiritual and the physical self,” he explained. “They’ve done studies on that, you know: how exercise can touch your spirit.” He thought awhile and then continued, “plus, the rod helps with balance.”
As we walked together, he confided in me that he believed that this form of exercise could touch places in your body that nothing else can. As we turned corners around skyscrapers, I asked him about his marketing plans. He regretted to inform me that he had none, but that he would work on some after the patent came through.
I suggested that William study to become a certified personal trainer, but he said he didn’t have time for that. He asked if I knew how to get a patent. I referred him to Google. He said he hadn’t thought of that. William had no training in economics or marketing or kinesiology or even Microsoft Word.
Still we walked, step by step. I asked him questions about his life and offered stories about mine. The conversation lulled and I listened to his breathing: labored in the effort, while mine was easy and slow.
“The staff.” He said suddenly. “It can touch parts of you that can’t be touched any other way.”
It hit me then that I knew what he meant, because I, too, have felt the way that a beating heart and burning lungs and aching muscles can clean out your body from the inside out; the incredible centering presence of movement and kinesthetic awareness. I, too, have felt the way that a dream can animate you into motion from the moment you wake up until the second your head hits the pillow.
“I have a patent pending,” he informed me once again, proudly, though I knew it wasn’t true. But this time I nodded seriously. William, a veteran with a brain ravaged by PTSD and years of drug abuse, and I share something in common: joy in the pursuit. This country that he served has failed him in every way, leaving him almost no opportunity to succeed. Yet still, he keeps his chin held high. How many people have the strength to move forward in the face of such adversity, with mind, body, and soul wrapped up in hope?
The road to the American dream has been blocked for William. But the way he returned my smile as we stepped back into the shelter where he was staying, I knew one thing for sure: the lucky ones are the dreamers.