There's this little old guy I see at the gym all the time. I'll call him…Barry. Don't know why. I guess I just like the name.
Anyway, Barry is a sweet little old guy. He's had a few serious injuries in his life, including a car accident that almost killed him. He's got almost no cartilage left in his body. His knees, back, neck, hips, you name it, are all messed up.
He's bent into a permanent question mark.
But he shows up at the gym every day. Since I go at different times of the day, I only see him there sometimes...but he's there every day – doing his physical therapy.
Barry is always smiling, always happy, always up-beat. He always has time to chat with you and he always has an encouraging word. He also always has a local community fund-raiser that he's working on, whether it's selling stuff to raise money for an outreach program at church, or signing people up to sponsor him for a walk-a-thon, or promoting a benefit concert.
You can tell he's always in pain. You can see it in the way he moves. His body just moves the way bodies do when they are in pain – a LOT of pain.
But he doesn't act like a guy in pain, and though he is bent, and his movements halting, stiff, and jerky, you can see that he's still got tremendous muscle tone for a guy in his late sixties.
Barry comes in wearing his khaki shorts, white fruit-of-the-loom T-shirt, navy blue stocking cap, white knee-socks and brown sensible shoes. His 1000-kilo-watt grin practically precedes him through the door.
No matter how big a hurry I'm in, I always take the time to talk to Barry. I can't help it. He's got a lot to say. He's always got a home-improvement project that he's doing or helping someone else do. He's always got something he's looking forward to. He's always got a story, and he's always ready to tell it.
I usually just end up listening and nodding and saying "uh huh" a lot. Barry is one of those people who talks without pauses. He doesn't talk fast…just deliberately…and he works like he talks. There's no wasted breath, no wasted time, space or syllables. No "ums" or "ahs" or "lets-sees" Not even the occasional "ya know?" He doesn't seem to be doing much, but you're amazed at what gets done. You don't think he's talking a lot but you're amazed at how much gets said.
One of the things Barry likes to talk about is miracles. He can go on and on. Barry's life is full of miracles and blessings. He's up to his tiny, stooped little neck in them. He drops them into his conversation as casually and as naturally and as regularly as the little machine that dispenses Hershey's kisses onto the conveyor belt.
He talks about his miracles and the miracles of others. His blessings, and the blessings of others. He sees them everywhere, listens to the stories of them from other people and passes them along. He's like the local Johnny Appelseed of miracles.
And I find that as much as I don't believe in miracles…as much as they tick me off when I hear about them from other people…I still like hearing about them from Barry.
When most people tell me about miracles, it annoys the shit out of me. Other people talk about how they got saved from something that was supposed to happen, but didn't…or how they asked for something and got it…or how they dodged a bullet by asking to avoid it. Or worse…they try to tell me about some stupid statue weeping blood, the Bible that stopped a bullet, or some medieval case of stigmata or some sick stuff like that. It makes me think of that Gabrial Garcia Marquez short story: "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." About an ugly angel that falls to Earth and gets held captive by local townspeople and forced to perform useless miracles.
But when Barry talks about miracles, he's not talking about how something that should have happened didn't. He's not talking about how the normal function of the world was interrupted for his benefit, or the benefit of an individual. He's not talking about freaky disturbing imagery that can only come from a death-cult mentality.
He talks about our extraordinary world, filled with extraordinary people doing extraordinary things in the face of ordinary troubles, problems and obstacles, and he takes great inspiration from them. He takes the world as it is as a miracle. People doing what people do as a blessing. He lives his miracles and his blessings to the utmost every day, and he shares them selflessly, simply and unabashedly.
And as much as I deny that miracles exist, I find myself unable to argue with him at all, but I am instead compelled to sit and listen...
...and that, in and of itself, is a little miracle.