I hardly noticed the vast Mediterranean Sea to my left as I walked along the boardwalk. My mind was churning, trying to figure out a solution to my most pressing problem of the moment.
The hotel where I have been staying since earlier this week does not have a gym. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. The weather has been beautiful, even if a bit chilly in the mornings, and I have taken my fitness routine outside, walking along the beach and exercising in the outdoor “weight rooms” that are found along the boardwalk. I read that the weather forecast is predicting rain on Saturday morning and needed to find a place to exercise.
Only a few hours earlier, I was high on gratitude after enjoying an extraordinary outing connecting with clients who live here. That feeling faded into distant memory as I got sucked into the trance of my thoughts. Sorting through options. Figuring things out. Planning.
I pulled out my iPhone and started to journal my thoughts, even as I continued walking. I have three more days here; how can I maximize the time? I notice I am writing instructions to myself in my journal: rules for what time I need to be finished with my workout and out of the hotel in order to get things done before the stores close. I am trying to manage the time I have left; even on vacation, I am caught up in the eternal pursuit for efficiency and productivity.
As I tried to sort out my thoughts and evaluate my options, I could feel the time slipping away and the resulting tightening in my chest.
My trance is interrupted by a guy on a bike. He rides slowly, to keep pace with my walking, as he approaches and starts conversation with me. This is becoming a regular occurrence here. What is it about these Israeli guys? They just walk up to me, even as I’m walking, and start a conversation. I’ve had some nice conversations this week, but in this moment, I’m not really in the mood. His approach feels like an interruption.
I respond to his overtures with brief responses, hoping that he will get bored and move on. Beneath my spoken words lie my sentiment, which remains unvocalized:
Dude, what do you want from me? Can’t you see that I’m busy? I don’t want to have conversation in this moment. I’m trying to figure out a plan.
He is not deterred.
Slowly, I am drawn out of my trance and back to the present. I remind myself to remain open and present. I’m on vacation. What problem is so huge that I can’t take a few minutes to engage in conversation with a stranger? Maybe he doesn’t want anything at all, other than to learn about me. I put away my phone and turn my attention to him. We introduce ourselves properly and we converse in Hebrew as we proceed along the boardwalk: I am walking, and Joseph is keeping pace on his bike.
Joseph asks what I’m doing right now and where I’m headed; am I interested in grabbing a cup of coffee in an hour? Internally, I laugh. The approach is almost always the same with these guys. I wonder if they just troll the beach, looking for women and then meeting them for coffee in an hour. January 1 is not a holiday here. Doesn’t he have work to do? Doesn’t he have other commitments?
This is doesn’t happen in New York; everyone is always so busy. Who goes for coffee without scheduling it days or weeks in advance? Back home, I rarely have a phone call without first getting it on the calendar.
I seize the opening to share my challenge and ask him if he knows of any local gyms where I could get a day pass for Saturday. We happened to be by the Gordon Pool, and he suggests that I check with the gym there. I have passed this pool so many times during my walks, and I had seen the building next door, but never knew they had a gym there. We stood there for a while longer to finish our conversation before exchanging numbers. We discussed possibly meeting up later for coffee, and then he rode off on his bike while I headed inside to check if I could get a day pass to the gym.
Generosity of Strangers
I went inside to inquire about getting a day pass. I approach the front desk and start to speak in Hebrew to the receptionist. This is a topic on which my Hebrew vocabulary is limited, and I am speaking slowly, searching for the words. She invites me to speak in English. I explain that I would prefer to speak in Hebrew so that I can practice, and ask if that’s ok with her. She listens with patience as I find the words to explain my predicament and ask whether I can purchase a day-pass to use their gym if it rains on Saturday morning.
She is sympathetic, but unable to help. The gym’s policy is to allow members only. As I start to ask her if she could recommend any alternatives, we are interrupted by a guy who has come to the gym for his workout. The quick pace of their conversation makes it difficult for me to follow along, but it seems like they are discussing the guest policy.
It is not until they pause and the receptionist asks me if I understood that I realize this guy was trying to help me. As my brain struggles to catch up in processing their conversation, she explains that he had asked if he could allow me to use the gym as his guest. She told him that each member is allowed to invite three guests during the year, and he could allow me to come as his guest even if he wasn’t there at the same time.
He asked her to make arrangements that would allow me to come back on Saturday as his guest.
I turned to him to say תודה רבה – many thanks. It hardly felt like enough, but in my stunned state, it’s all I was able to manager. He replied with a simple בקף – with pleasure – before heading into the gym.
He vanished so quickly that I never had a chance to ask his name.
I headed back outside, left speechless at the generosity of this stranger, who hardly stood still long enough for me to thank him. He wasn’t interested in the recognition; he simply wanted to do a nice thing for someone else.
I am beyond belief. Beyond words.
This is just one example from a day filled with gifts, in a week filled with one synchronicity after another.
It’s like everything is falling into place.
I checked the time on my phone. It feels like so long ago that Joseph approached me on the boardwalk, and not even thirty minutes have passed. I recall how I was so busy trying to figure out my plan, how his approach felt like an interrruption.
I was so caught up in wondering what he wanted from me that I was resistant to engaging in a simple conversation. Now, as I float on clouds, my initial resistance seems so silly.
How could connecting with other people ever be a waste of time?
The stranger did not ask me to pay it forward, but I feel the urge to do so. I’m not sure how, when or where, but I will find a way. I know that the opportunity will present itself if I remain present to what’s around me. As I float off on my cloud of gratitude my iPhone is tucked away in my bag, my head is up, and my heart is open to the world.