Most disciplines and ideologies provide students with a teacher, sensei, guru, mentor, sifu, or guide, but Life itself has a way of supplying wisdom from some very unexpected sources. I was blessed to have crossed paths with a very unconventional sage: Frank, the ex-cop who served as the overnight security guard at Manhattan’s ritziest health club.
It was my first-ever gym job and, for a few years, I manned the late shift. Part of my duties was clearing out and closing the gargantuan gym floor. My sonorous, sing-song “five minutes” warning and “gym’s closed” call became a nightly feature for the regular members.
Frank would punch in about 30 minutes before I’d start shutting down the place. He looked, talked, and moved like an ex-cop. Apropos to being two blue-collar guys from the outer boroughs, Frank and I frequently and futilely pondered the comportment of Manhattan’s social and financial elite who patronized our place of employment.
It was payday when my lesson arrived. I’d given the “gym’s closed” cry and was commiserating with a co-worker named Eddie about our unacceptably meager wages.
“What are you guys whining about? You’re each worth twenty million bucks!”
Like some kind of old Italian ninja, Frank had appeared directly behind us.
We countered with retorts like “Yeah, don’t we wish!” and “Maybe one day!”
Frank’s facial expression did not change.
“How old are you?” he asked, pointing to me.
“Twenty-five,” I replied.
Eddie answered, “I’m 21.”
“I’m 64,” Frank coolly continued. “I’ll give either one of you twenty million bucks to trade places with me right now. You get all the money but you have to be my age and I get to be yours.”
Absolute. Dead. Silence.
Frank smiled and nodded.
“Now get outta here and go have some fun! I’ll finish closing up.”
4 Wise Lessons I Learned from My Surprise Shaman
Mindfulness and acceptance. Eddie and I had fallen into the trap of imagining that all the answers existed beyond that moment and beyond our means. By prodding us to stay present and accept ourselves, Frank helped us see that we were already “millionaires.”
Bukowski’s Lucky Delusion
That which we take for granted, another person may crave. If it were possible, I’m sure many folks would swap their wealth for someone else’s youth. Imagine how profound a shift it would be if we could each instead feel gratitude for who and what we are… right now. As the poet Charles Bukowski once pronounced: “I’ve never met another man I’d rather be. And even if that’s a delusion, it’s a lucky one.” Here’s to lucky delusions…
Not All Gurus Wear Robes
We’re conditioned to expect experts to arrive wearing a white lab coat or an expensive Italian suit. Wisdom, however, is not limited to costumes or categories. It’s not about transient credentials. Everyone we encounter has the potential to alter our life if we can set aside our ego and truly hear them.
We Are Spirits in a Material World
As The Police song goes, “Where does the answer lie?/Living from day to day/If it’s something we can’t buy/There must be another way.” Frank indeed pointed me toward another way, e.g. the best things in life are free.
In those days, it was not uncommon for Frank to find me in the health club’s first-floor office after the bosses had made their exit. This was back in the pre-Internet days of yore. So, let’s just say a burgeoning writer like me made the most of having access to a high-end copy machine.
“I know what you’re doing back here,” Frank once whispered. “Just remember me when you get famous.”
Alas, fame was not in the cards for me… but even so, I’ll always remember you, Frank.