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Archive for September 25th, 2007

“It was a compliment,’ said Merry Brandybuck,’and so, of course, not true.”
– J. R. R. Tokien, The Lord of the Rings

When I use the exercise bike at the rec center, I mostly keep to myself. After years of running by myself, I just don’t think of exercising as a social occasion. So, I was surprised yesterday when a man in his early twenties approached me as I staggered off the bike and said, “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure,” I said warily, supposing he was about to criticize my technique. In my experience, everyone in the weight room is an expert, and few are reluctant to give you the benefit of their advice.

“You’re a warrior, man!” Then, as I was wondering whether I had heard him right, he said, “I see you running when I go to work. Then, at the end of the day, I see you here on the bike, working your guts out. You’re a warrior, a real warrior!”

I muttered something about just trying to get away from the computer after twelve hours, and sat down at a weight machine, bemused and – if I’m going to be honest – slightly pleased.

When I’m praised (or abused, for that matter), it’s usually for my writing. Most people don’t notice me physically, because I’m heavy-set for my height. I don’t look fit even when I am, and regardless of the fact that I’ve exercised daily since I was in elementary school. So, to be praised for my endurance (which I suppose was what he was saying) is unexpected. Yet, because I’m proud of my endurance, my vanity is tickled to have it acknowledged.

At the same time, I feel uneasy that it was noticed at all. Like many people who are observers, I’m mildly disconcerted to realize that someone has been observing me. I’m not altogether sure that I like it. It’s a bit of role-reversal that I didn’t expect.

Moreover, so far as a warrior-like appearance goes, I’m not exactly a rival to Ghengis Khan, or even someone civilized like Xenophon. Years of reading and keyboard work have taken their toll, and, if random people were asked to describe my face, chances are that many of them would use the word “mild.” Don’t get me wrong – I feel passionately about many causes and people, and I probably have more than my share of self-righteousness. But most of that doesn’t show on my face.

Finding a minute part of me inclined to preen at the compliment, I told myself that I wasn’t one of those middle-aged business executives that need to imagine themselves a samurai warrior to find some meaning in their lives.

Later, it would occur to me both how rare compliments are between hetrosexual men, and how I still don’t know how to receive a compliment from anyone with any dignity or grace.

But, at the time, I could only think:

A warrior?

Me?

Yeah, right.

Shaking my head, I bent to my repetitions with the weight machine.

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