the other half

I’m staying for a week at a luxury home in a resort community in Naples, Florida.  I know, right?  It’s a story in itself, exactly how this came about; but the short version is that it was a generous gift from a family showing their appreciation for my investment in their teenage son.  I’ve been here just over 24 hours.  I feel a week’s relaxation already.

The home here is immense.  It is in a gated community where I push a button on a personal device and heavy, iron gates swing open at my command.  The main house has what appears to my eye to be 15-foot ceilings.  There is a private lanai and whirlpool area, an entertainment center that pumps my iPod tunes throughout the house, and room to sleep ten – not just little ol’ me.

In addition, I have a pass to a private resort club.  There, I have access to expansive pools, one with a waterfall and an island at its center where real trees grow.  Other amenities include fine dining, spas and a gym.  It was at this gym, earlier today, that I met Stephan.

I had brought my “gym book,” in which I keep a record of exercises, how many reps I do, and at what weight.  At a glance, it looked like I was doing seated overhead presses using 90-lb dumbbells last time I did shoulders.  This seemed a little odd to me, but I figured I must just be that awesome and went in search of the prescribed dumbbells.  Alas, this gym only stocks dumbbells up to 85 lbs.  I’d have to settle for being a little less awesome than my potential.

I grabbed the 85-lb dumbbells and sat down, resting one on each thigh. Next to me was a young guy, doing some bicep curls not five feet away.  I hate to admit it, but my first thought was, These weights seem awfully heavy.  What if I can’t lift them and I look like an idiot to this kid?  Still, my book said I did three sets of these babies,  twelve reps each set, and at an even higher weight.  So my misgivings were clearly no more than a psychological thing – performance jitters in a new place.  It happens.

I contracted my abs, twisted with a jerk, and hoisted a dumbbell up onto my right shoulder.  Real heavy.  I quickly grunted and hoisted the other up.  The first one up is always a bear, I coached myself, as I struggled to push the weights up overhead.  But the second one was a bear, as well.

This was not good.

Was that kid looking at me weird?

Was the cleaning lady mocking me with her eyes?

I was sweating, and not just from the exertion.

I managed to get six reps out before I just had to let them fall.  How on earth had I done three sets of twelve with these, and at a higher weight?

I replaced the weights, feeling defeated, and double-checked my book.

There, I saw that my last workout had not been with dumbbells after all, but had been with 90-lbs worth of plates on each side of a Nautilus press.

I laughed out loud, half out of chagrin and half out of relief.  Wait … make it one third of each of those, and one third out of realizing that I’d just done six reps with dumbbells 10 lbs heavier than I was accustomed to – mostly spurred on by vanity.

The boy looked at me, confused by my sudden outburst of laughter, and he also laughed.  I introduced myself and admitted to him the source of my laughter:  “I read the wrong weight from my book and just pushed out reps at a much higher weight than I’m used to because – you know – you always have to be a tough guy when other people are around.”

He laughed again and said he had been doing the same thing, and that his name was Stephan.  Stephan and I agreed that we would stop doing that for the rest of our workout.

I learned that Stephan is sixteen.  He is originally from Holland.  When I asked where he was living now, he shrugged and said, “I’m from here.”  Thinking he simply meant “the United States,” I asked for clarification: “Yes, but which state?”

“Here, in Naples,” he replied.

“Ah, so people actually live here all year?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah,” Stephan shrugged again, “it’s all right.”

For the next few sets, I chatted with Stephan about how “resort living” was as a regular lifestyle.  He went to high school a mile away.  He played basketball and he swam.  But a lot of the time, he was bored.  I finally said, “Please don’t take this as a criticism, but if you live all the time in luxury that most people only visit infrequently, what do you do to impress yourself?  Like … what do you do or where do you go when you want a feeling of excitement or ‘newness’?”

Stephan wasn’t offended.  His eyes got distant.  “My family rents an RV and travels up north to New England.  It’s just so nice to have rugged coasts and cool air and seasonal changes.  And snow!  And the people are always very nice.  Last time, we parked not far from Boston.  We saw the aquarium, and there was a huge food court and market.  It was amazing.”  He smiled wistfully.

Ah, irony.

Here I was on vacation, “getting away” to Stephan’s everyday life.  And here was Stephan, longing to get away to mine.  To live in a space smaller than my apartment, to see my backyard and to do the things that I can do any time I like.

It’s funny.  I am very grateful for this getaway.  I am enjoying every second.  But it was a complete surprise.  And it was not something I told myself I needed in order to be happy.  I was not slogging through my days of misery, with only the carrot of The Vacation to pull me forward.  I love my life.  I have wonderful friends.  I feel fulfilled in my choice of work.  In fact, just the other day at a 3rd-of-July party, someone I hadn’t seen in a while asked how I was doing, and my answer was this: “I have never been so peaceful yet excited about life as I am now.”

And that is the truth.

Contentment isn’t found in travel or vacations or luxuries or winning the lottery.  To imagine that happiness lies someplace else is a constant trick our minds play on us.

As Dib is famous for saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.”  Make the choices that will lead to loving where you are.

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