Control Less

I’m running on the treadmill at the gym watching that Food Network lady with the blond hair that shoots in all directions off her head.

On my tiny treadmill television, I fixate on the steak and potato dish she’s preparing. I hope the giant running behind me doesn’t think it’s weird to watch cooking shows on a treadmill.

Crazy hair chef is adding all sorts of cheeses and creams to a sauté pan. I like her. She has no problem with butter.

I want to eat the steak and imagine myself running toward that succulent slab of beef. Then I rip my earphones out and snap back to reality. For the love of God, Michelle! Run away from the steak (that is now smothered in hollandaise sauce). Run away!

Huffing and puffing after a cool six minutes of exercise, I’m jarred by an energetic conversation between two women walking on the treadmills next to me. Their “volume 11” racket is so loud, I almost stumble off my machine.

No brick wall has been placed between them. As far as I can see, there isn’t any reason to shout. Irritated, I glare at the chatterboxes hoping they receive my “please pipe it down” vibe. They don’t.

In that moment, I know I’ve suddenly morphed into the volume police and the “how you should act at the gym” police. So I have a choice: I can move, or wait…that show Bones is on. I pop my earphones back in and get crackin.’

Bones and Booth take me through an investigation involving a green skeleton that could be a leprechaun, and I am transfixed. I really enjoy that show. I actually run fast, burn some calories, and forget about the women next to me until I take my earphones off again to cool down.

Like feedback from a microphone, their booming exchange tenses my shoulders right back up. A pause in their discussion finally comes, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

The woman farthest from me thinks for a few beats and then speaks to her friend tentatively. “I know we are in the same program at school, but I was too nervous to speak to you because you are a level above me. This talk and connection means so much. It is a real breakthrough for me to be vulnerable and reach out like this.”

I want to cry. The friend almost does. Touched, she hugs the brave lady and thanks her for opening up.

I, as usual, feel like a controlling ass. I believe the universe meant for me to hear that part of the conversation specifically.

I can’t stand overly-emphasized yoga werewolf breathing. Someone gulping and slurping a water bottle next to me feels like a fork in my neck.

If one of my students is texting while another is speaking to the class, I want to grab the phone and throw it out the window.

Stuff annoys me. I want things to go my way, and I especially want people to act the way I think they should act. I know these are selfish notions, and I can only manage my own behavior, but that controlling instinct is my Achilles’ heel.

What helps me is to really let situations like the treadmill breakthrough of 2013 sink in. I tend to move so quickly; I forget that each one of us is dealing with something.

When we are ready to pounce and road rage on a stranger, we have no idea what they are going through. We also don’t have the right to tell anyone how to act, how loud to speak, or how fast they should move out of our way.

It also helps (hurts) me to remember that I’m annoying too. I had to laugh leaving the gym at all the times in my life someone told me to quiet down. “You are talking too loud, Michelle!” If I had a nickel.

Maybe I’m jealous. Those ladies were simply excited about connecting and sharing ideas. Maybe I need to reach out and schedule a boisterous treadmill talk of my own.

What’s important is that I continue to reel it in and quit “shoulding” all over everyone.

The reeling it in is a constant process. Odds are I will get in the car after writing this, decide the person in front of me is driving too slow, and have that weird, fake conversation with them out loud, to myself, “Ohhhh I guess it’s drive five miles an hour day. Oh, I guess you are in charge of the road now, Sir.”

Then, I’ll take a deep breath and imagine that driver is just being careful or thinking about a loved one.

Practicing patience is harder for me than getting through Anna Karenina. My mom knows this. She bought me a piece of granite with the word “patience” carved in it.

So I put my pet patience rock by the kitchen sink as a reminder that I am a work in progress. We all are.

The best we can do is reset and start over again and again, mind our own business, and let the chatty ladies at the gym do their thing.


Image credit: thewheatfield on Etsy

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