Friday, November 14, 2008

Gym Shoes

I went to a gymnasium last Sunday. I love gyms, grew up in them. I remember them vividly. A small little musky brick gym in a park in rural Illinois is the first one I remember. The floor was gray vinyl squares streaked with colored lines marking the territory of each sport. I only remember the white rectangle measuring 94x50 and the plain white shoes from K-Mart that I wore – they made me run real fast. People reclined on the brown wooden bleachers that folded out from the wall. Families stacked and sorted into rows and columns.

I remember another brick gym in Phoenix – this one large and new with carpet – yes a carpeted gym that silenced my blue Nike Cortez sneakers and deadened the bounce of the ball.

I recall my first school team and the Junior High School cafeteria in Los Angeles that we played in. Tables and chairs rolled into a side room and baskets lowered to magically transform lunchtime utility into extra-curricular exercise. French-fries and chocolate donuts hastily swept into a pile in the corner of the building in which I experienced my first fight, my first kiss and my first dunk (if running up the cement wall in my Converse High Tops counts).

My most vivid disappointment - cut during tryouts – occurred in a gym. I hated that gym and I even hated the game for a week of two. Redemption came by making another team at another school. Nikes were my reward - Green and Gold to match my new uniform. That gym was . . . magnificent. I miss it to this day. That is the gym in which my sleeping mind has allowed me to play with and against the greatest players the world has ever known, and earn their respect.

High School was replaced by College, and Basketball was replaced by work. The gym was replaced by -

Well nothing. It was merely lost. And missed. Neglected but not forgotten. Sure there were a few here and there – parks and rec games in Jordans, adult leagues wearing whatever Nike Mids were on sale and not too flashy, pick-up games, teams with the guys from work, but not an outstanding memory in the bunch, and nothing that I recall as fondly as the gyms of my youth.

Which brings me back to Sunday. Last Sunday, a large gym full of people filling the bleachers, and even more in chairs covering the floor. There was no cheering, no uniforms and no basketball. Just a man telling stories based on a book that he believes in. A man talking about the goodness he says lives in all of us. Goodness so strong that it can make us do something nice for a stranger we will never meet, but can touch and help, nonetheless. We were asked to walk a mile in a poor man’s shoes by letting him walk in ours. Literally. We were asked to donate the shoes on our feet to the homeless who will need them this winter. It was hoped that the gift would help a person in need, and that the simple experience of being without shoes on our journey home might give us perspective on someone who has neither shoes, nor a home to return to. . .

And once again, a gymnasium and a pair of shoes made an indelible impression on me.

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