Wednesday night at the gym they had the community outreach program. An occasional, seemingly random event where people can come and try out the facility while enjoying a glass of lemonade or fruit infused ice water, and a soft, thick, doughy delicious cookie.
It’s really kind of funny, people come, look around and don’t go anywhere near the weights or cable machines. They don’t swim, or play basketball. None of them use the track, or the rowing machines, placed so conveniently around the windows looking into the pool for the added realism of rowing near water. They wander around as if it were a sale filled with things they weren’t particularly interested in but still hoping to find a treasure.
My wife and I went about our workout, a little lifting, a lot of walking, and a chance to talk about our day. We talk with a few people, gym friends, and the time is relaxing and invigorating in its own way. She left and I used the elliptical machine, took a shower.
When I was leaving there were a whole group of people enjoying the cookies and drinks from the table set up too close to the exit to be practical. There was no room to effect my escape. I filled a plastic cup with iced water and waited for a break in the smiling, cheerful crowd. It always makes me happy to see so many people with no real connection standing together in a good natured mob, no friction, no tension.
Finally a break, and I followed a group of Muslim women, dressed in jilbabs, long flowing dresses that run from head to toe, leaving only their face and hands exposed. They were carrying little plastic cups of water, and their children ran ahead of them, laughing and playing. One of them saw me following closely behind, and held the first, the inner, door for me.
“Allow me.” I said, taking the door, and holding it open. They all laughed and smiled at me, saying something in a broken English that I couldn’t understand. It seemed to be a long, exaggerated thanks. And we repeated the same act at the outer door. They all smiled at me and laughed and went their way. Whatever they had done, whatever they had tried, they enjoyed themselves, they had been made to feel welcome and wanted, our gym is very inclusive. And it showed in their faces. It wasn’t probably the way they were always treated.
And I watched them all the way to their car, an old Toyota Sienna, heard their laughter, and their joy. The excited, ecstatic cries of their children, as they piled in, almost a clown car in reverse, and it made me happy.
I wondered how much they had sacrificed to come to America. What they left behind, what they had given up without any hope of ever finding again. I see their husbands driving cabs down by the convention center. Working as dishwashers, anything to make a living, chase the American dream. And I thought we should welcome them. More than anybody they want to be here, they only want safety and security for their families. “Still, from near and far to seek America, they come by thousands.” We should be proud to call them Americans.
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