“Jim, how many jumping jacks are we doing today?”
“100,” he muttered with signature sarcasm and a grin.
“100 it is,” our instructor Maryam said with a big laugh.
That was the day I learned Jim’s name. I repeated it, accompanied with a four-letter word, between each jumping jack. I remember how he laughed, both at and with me, as we finished each set of 100.
Every day after that, when I went to the Y, I said hello to Jim. I’ve never met anyone so committed to their workout routine. Like clockwork, he walked in around 5:15 and out around 7 to head toward the high school where he transformed from gym go-er to the singing AP Physics teacher.
I’ve gotten to know his wife, too. His son is the one that’s deployed and collecting brewery t-shirts. Jim thought it was amazing that people from all over the country volunteered to send shirts. He cried when I told him about the overwhelming response.
I said hello for the last time on Sunday morning. Today, I’ll say goodbye.
As I sit at my desk, changing words from past to present tense over and over, I’m stuck with this feeling that a little bit of magic left with him. The crowded gym felt empty without his smile on Monday. I know I wasn’t the only one subconsciously waiting for him to show up - people who knew his name, and the ones who didn’t.
I imagine he had no idea how much we cared. I think we’re all feeling one hug, one ‘I love you’ short. I doubt most people have any concept of how much they impact others with small gestures and big smiles along everyday paths and work routines. How simple acknowledgment from a stranger with a smile and wave can add up. How you are noticed and appreciated by the people around you.
Whether you already knew Jim’s name or just learned it today, take this lesson with you. Influence is not significant, firework moments. It’s not a keynote or a big project. That’s not how we are remembered or become memorable. We are cherished for small gestures. Kindness. Compassion.