There’s a man I see every time I go to a certain exercise class. He does the evening shift in the parking lot next to where the classes are held. He opens the boom when he needs to and then it closes again automatically I think. Up and down. On and on. Past the dusk, as the light fades away and onwards into the inky black night.
There is something about him that makes me think this is a second job, that he does something else during the day to earn money, that’s he’s earnestly saving for a modest retirement that he deserves. He’s not a young man…early 60s I think. He wears his security uniform with pride, the collar perfectly pressed, his hair combed just so, his parting completely straight. And every time he waves me in, he gives me the biggest smile, that beams straight from the heart, as pure as the sun.
When he first did this I thought he wasn’t mentally all there. I mean, no one can be THAT happy, manning a boom in a parking lot every night can they? Or maybe they can. All I know is that every time I see him, he acts like I am his friend, and he tugs at my heart strings this man. I wonder if he is lonely, or if he is loved, or if anyone ever calls him, or bakes him a cake, or drops in at his place for tea.
I’m sure he smiles and waves at all the ladies in activewear who ask gently if they can park underground. You can see he gets a kick out of being the ‘master of the boom’, of letting us in because all the office workers have long gone home and if ladies in their tights want to use a spare parking space that’s sitting bare, well then, why shouldn’t they?
But with my writer’s imagination I want to know his back story. I am curious and as I warm up on the treadmill once my car is safely parked inside, or do my set of sit ups, I can’t help think about his life and wonder if he is happy and what path has led him here.
Does he play Tetris on his phone when he’s bored? Or check his Instagram feed (#work again #parkinglot #bored). Does he listen to the radio, while the DJs keep him company all night? Or does he study the classics, or is he writing a novel, or does he simply sit and stare and let his thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments, wash over him, like waves slapping against a jetty?
I can’t pity someone I don’t know. But this man makes me consider loneliness as a concept, and how blessed we are if we have family we can rely on, siblings we’d call friends, parents we admire and respect. Friends who ask us out for dinner, drop by with a bottle of wine, offer to take our kid to a show, bring us medicine when we’re sick. Children that snuggle up on our laps, scream with excitement when they hear our key in the door, wait outside the bathroom door for us to finish.
Because as much as being needed can sometimes be exhausting, it can also infuse our lives with meaning. Imagine doing life all alone. What kind of a life is that?
Maybe next time I go to that exercise class I will bake him a cake, make him a thermos, thank him for his grace. We all have so much love to give, and I feel like I need to spread it around a bit more.