My son, Alex, starts a new role with Equinox Fitness today. He likes working with Equinox, which I can say from my experiences there is a beautiful environment in which to hack one’s body.
Alex told me that last week he was in the locker room at Equinox and “A man I’d never seen there before–and I know almost everyone who goes in that place–saw the tattoo above my heart, and he said, ‘Hm. “Just be Strong” What’s that mean?’
Alex said, “I’m used to having people make comments about my tattoo. A lot of people think it’s about doing reps in the gym, or a message I’m giving myself or something like that.”
“A personal affirmation,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “One of my friends’ dads saw it and said, ‘Hey Bon, what’s that scribbling on your titty?”
“What an asshole thing to say,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says.
“What’d you tell him?” I ask.
“Same thing I tell everybody. That it’s the last thing Grandpa said to me before he died.”
“And that shuts them up,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s not what people expect, and it gives them something to think about,” he said, “and they definitely quit joking about it. But in all the times people have commented on it, this was the first time anyone ever asked me what it means. AndÂ I don’t think I’d ever asked that question about it, myself. When this guy asked me, I didn’t try to think of an answer. I didn’t try to come up with the right words. All I did was think of Grandpa. I thought of all the times I was around Grandpa, and let myself feel the way those times made me feel. And I said the words that came to mind, it wasn’t really about answering his question as much as it was describing what I thought of when I thought about Grandpa.
“What’d you say?”
“I said, ‘Do a good job. And be happy.’
“Wow. That’s a good way to describe Grandpa.”
“I know, right? I think it caught the guy off-guard. It did me, for sure. He really didn’t say anything, just kind of nodded and said, ‘That’s good.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah that is pretty good.'”
Alex told me about the good day he’d had at work that day, a day where he’d paid attention to every little thing and had made it a point to do a good job. A day that now included our memories of his Grandpa. A day he was able to share with me as more than a rote repetition of unconnected events.
Alex’s Grandpa brought a kind of joy to everything he did. His was not a Howdy Doodyish masquerade of joy, not joy as a mask, but real, true attentive and ever-present joy. A joy of many expressions. When, for example, my father ate an ear of corn on the cob, he made love to that ear of corn–sucking and slurping and gnawing on it and savoring it like it was the first and last thing he’d ever eat. I’m sure there are times at our supper table when the rest of us paused for a second just to watch my dad eat. It was a show. Him eating soup was a full Sensurround experience. He could eat a bowl of cold milk and crunched up saltine crackers, his favorite snack, and make you think of lions chasing down zebras, that’s how into it he would be.
My dad could fill up a water bucket and make it the most important thing in the world at that time, because lives depended on that water bucket getting filled. This was no time to relax. It was a time to breathe deep and fill yourself up with your life and your intentions, to find inspiration in the lives of the animals who’d be drinking that water. To see my father dig a post hole was to watch a man having full-on coitus with Mother Earth. It was a dance of joy. Really something to behold. A grunt-filled and altogether penetrating experience. Watching two moose go at it could not have been any more compelling.
In my father’s working life, he did a lot of jobs: artificially inseminated cows; installed grain bins; sold grain mixers, feed supplements and hearing aids; drove his own 18-wheeler as a wildcat long haul trucker back and forth from Indiana to North Carolina; farmed 110 acres; collected and rehabilitated horses; built a theme park on our farm; raced thoroughbreds; planted and picked and sold and marketed to the Tri-State Area (Indiana/Illinois/Kentucky). And in all of it, he did a good job. Whatever he was doing had his full attention. And ultimately, I believe, it had his love and gratitude.
As far as being happy, I guess he showed Alex that it’s a choice. Like my friend, Joe Ranft, used to say, “I decided to walk on the sunny side of the street.” That’s the way it was with my dad. By the time he’d gotten home from World War II, he’d seen enough sadness for one lifetime. His choice, no matter what the circumstances, was happiness. I am happy Alex was able to experience this in his grandfather and recalls it when someone mentions his tattoo.
Just be Strong. It means do a good job and be happy. It means that doing a good job and being happy are not for the weak or the uninspired. Days will come when it is more convenient to disconnect from the job than to express yourself through it. Days will come when the prevailing energy is negative and down, and happy is the hardest thing to be. These are the days that separate the professionals from the pretenders. These are the days to just be strong.