The Pandemic; My Accidental Strength Training Coach

Recently, a single theme keeps prodding me to look up, pay attention and take note:  resilience.  That elusive balance between softness and strength, resilience is knowing when to let go, when to hang on and learning to navigate the landscape between those extremes all while keeping it together.  As a fitness professional, a big part of my job is coaching the physical side of resilience – functional, supple strength that keeps us strong, stable and moving all at the same time.  The kind of balanced strength that keeps you on your feet when you find the ground slipping out from underneath you, or at least able to endure the impact if you can’t avoid the fall.

The pandemic however demands resilience on a much deeper level.  It’s been like a 24 month long Tough Mudder of the spirit, an obstacle course of shut downs, restrictions and unknowns that have been truly exhausting. I realize too just how much all this navigating effort – at least for me – has been unconscious.  It’s mostly about just getting through, staying on my feet and getting the job done.

My first conscious day of resilience training found me standing in the checkout line up at London Drugs during the Christmas Crunch with all the other weary, masked shoppers just wanting to get home.  The gentleman behind me was tailgating.  Impatient for the line to move faster, he mistakenly figured that invading my personal space and breaking the COVID boundary would somehow make the line go faster. Tailgating during normal times is highly annoying, but checkout tailgating during a pandemic is like throwing gasoline on the fire.

We are all a little (or a lot) on edge, each of us with our own unique size and brand of grouchiness simmering away on the back burner of our consciousness.  All it takes is nudging that simmering pot, setting someone off, and the potential for a mess is real.

Immediately irritated by his pushiness, my first reaction was to mumble something unhelpful and incendiary like “uh, excuse me but can you give me some space?”  But I didn’t.  I was having a good day (my simmering mess at that moment small and manageable) and instead I cut the tailgater some slack and, pushing my items ahead on the counter, suggested he put his items down.  Relieved by my gesture, he put his purchases down and thanked me.  As I collected my packages to leave, he turned to me, and through his mask, smiled with his eyes and wished me a very happy Christmas.

It was the tiniest exchange between complete strangers, an exchange that could have gone an entirely different direction (me blurting for him to back off and him snapping back for me to go jump in the lake for instance).  As I walked away, I felt a discernible shift down deep in my chest: I do believe it was my heart.  A little like that scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where the Grinch’s heart starts to grow in his chest when he decides to do the kind thing.  For the next few hours that tiny, positive exchange gave me a little more spring in my step, a little more room in my overall energy level that day to carry on with the joys of negotiating a pandemic Christmas.  I felt just a little more resilient.

It was like I’d had a little workout: it took effort, energy and focus to show kindness to an irritating stranger, to take the high road when really what I wanted to do was give him the hairy eyeball.  His reciprocated kindness was a bonus and made me feel better, stronger, more on my game.  Just like I do when I decide to go for a run when I’d rather be on the couch eating something I probably shouldn’t.

It seems the pandemic has become my accidental resilience coach.  It has prompted me to look up from my daily march of simply getting things done, and reminded me of how the tiniest, positive exchange can bloom into something bigger, changing the course of a shared experience and building resilience from the inside out.