I was prepared to write all about my first ART session today in Brentwood with Benjamin W. Kleinbrodt, DC, CCSP. I was eager to share all the details of how jacked up my body is structurally, how Ben gasped as I showed off my bare legs and said "it's a miracle I can do any (endurance events) at all" based on my pronated ("super flat") feet, inversely rotated tibias, and a generally crooked and ill-proportioned body. Then, this evening, I volunteered at a homeless shelter on Skid Row preparing and serving meals.
I am humbled and embarrassed. So much of this blog space has been devoted to what I feel or think about triathlon. I live inside my head. In my own world. Deep in the "pain cave" or the "hurt locker" at times. Where it's solitary confinement by choice. Many of us triathletes live there, by choice. And yet while I (we?) think about our mileage and our raw, organic meals or exactly when in the day we should have our next protein shake, tens of thousands of people in my city alone are wondering when they're going to eat next. Their pain cave is a lot deeper, a lot colder and infinitely harsher.
I am simply shell-shocked tonight. I'm ashamed to write that I've never been to a homeless shelter. Until this moment, "the homeless" have mostly been a group I could disassociate with. I could write a check to a cause and consider myself a good person. But interact with them? Surely that was someone else's responsibility. If a homeless person approached and I had money, I'd almost always give it (remember this summer's "drug bust"???). So I'd smile within and think, "That was a nice mitzvah (good deed) I just did. I'm a good person." But I'd also just as easily try to cross the street or avoid eye contact.
Tonight, I met several people without homes. And I emphasize PEOPLE. People who have bad luck. Or are ill. Or maybe haven't been the nicest or the best they could be. But, as I looked at every person I could who humbly put their hands out for a hot plate of food, I saw two eyes looking back at me. Real people. Not covered in blankets. Not shrouded in the dark, or cocooned in a sleeping bag with a cup to leave some money. Functioning people in regular clothes, some with kids, some full families. And the food line just kept growing, so much so that the kitchen had to close and three hungry people were turned away.
What a wake-up call.
We are all lucky to have lives where we can challenge ourselves on a higher level. We have the means and the resources to pursue being our best. But I have been guilty of focusing too much on one journey -- achievement -- at the expense of another -- fellowship. Have I really been pushing myself to be the best I can be if it took 36 years before I saw the inside of a homeless shelter?
Tonight that changes forever. Stephanie and I will volunteer at the homeless shelter more often. I have to. It is already done.
I love triathlon. I love the lessons I've learned from the sport. But tonight I was reminded of perhaps the toughest lesson of all about it: It can be a selfish pursuit. Ultimately, helping someone get a hot meal is a lot more important. And a lot more satisfying.
My life changed tonight. And I've never been more ashamed to admit it. I should have been doing this years ago.
187 days and counting.