It was September 1996. I had just begun my very first job at Gold’s Gym. I was thrilled to belong to a health club, work out with state-of-the-art fitness equipment and make some money. During one of my very first workouts at Gold’s, I was bench-pressing and asked a guy nearby for a spot. He obliged, and after my set I thanked him and introduced myself, “By the way, my name’s Dan.”
“Tom,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, Tom.”
He forced a smile, we shook hands and that was that.
Tom was probably in his 40s, blond with a short, well-trimmed goatee and dark circles around his eyes, as if he were constantly sleep-deprived. He was lean yet muscular. I saw him nearly every day and I would always greet him with, “Hi Tom!” or “What’s up, Tom?” But I hardly ever got a response from him, and when I did it was merely a “Hey.” Also, he never called me by name. What was this guy’s problem?
Sure, in his eyes, I was probably just some snot-nosed, 15-year-old kid, but does that justify rudeness? I didn’t think so.
Normally, I would have just stopped talking to Tom, but I prayed about it and God told me quite clearly: Continue to talk to him, Daniel. Show him love. Show him My love.
So I did. Every time I saw Tom I made a point to speak to him, and every time he ignored me.
Fast forward over three years. It was almost 10 p.m. on December 23. I was going to be off for the next three days, and I found myself daydreaming about the joyous holiday activities that would take place over the break: watching Christmas specials, relaxing at home, going to Grandma Ginny’s with the family, exchanging gifts and, of course, feasting on Christmas dinner. My shift at the gym couldn’t end fast enough.
It was just about closing time when, in the middle of my daydreaming, I happened to look up and see Tom. He had his head down and was walking quickly towards the exit. Oh great, I thought, Here comes Ebenezer Scrooge now. Guess I’ll wish him “Merry Christmas!” and brace myself for his “Bah humbug!” Or, more likely, his usual silent treatment.
So, as he neared the door, I said with a smile, “Merry Christmas Tom!”
But instead of continuing on his way, he froze. He slowly looked up from the floor and turned toward me. With tears running down his face, he said, “Merry Christmas, Dan!”
Not only did he not ignore me, but he actually used my name for the first time since we met three years earlier!
I came around the counter and gave him a big hug. As if he was reading my thoughts, he proceeded to tell me all he had been through recently: a bitter divorce, losing custody of his four kids and, one week prior, being fired from his job.
He then told me he had grown up in the church but hadn’t prayed to God in decades, but he did for the first time the night before. He asked God if there was anyone on earth who still cared about him. He told God that if one person reached out to him he would have a reason to live. The catch was it had to happen by the night of Christmas Eve.
What he said next sent chills up my spine. He confessed that he had just bought a gun and was preparing to shoot himself the following night. Then he thanked me for my unconditional kindness and for saving his life. And for the first time since we met, he smiled.
Suddenly, the three years of him ignoring me seemed worth it. Never underestimate the impact the smallest gestures of kindness can have!
Until I went to work at another gym, I saw Tom regularly for several years. We always greeted each other by name.