I quickly sized up the boomer in the purple 5K T-shirt with the superficiality befitting a place called L.A. Fitness.
Gaunt in the way of the runner, reedy legs, probably rebar-strong from a lifetime of races, narrow chest almost certainly covering lungs that expand like airbags after a collision.
He did some repetitions with lighter weights.
In my league, I thought, buying some time, till we come up lame and take our stations aside peers less inclined to rage against dimming lights.
Then he turned around.
The back of his T-shirt flashed like a billboard, akin to others promoting bail bondsmen, plumbers and sports teams.
Only his was chilling, proclaiming the 5K’s purpose, conquering pancreatic cancer.
Thoughts pivoted to my friend Buddy, once a runner, too, wasting on his deathbed, taking off his oxygen mask just long enough to offer his daughter’s boyfriend the clothes in his closet.
I gave him one last hug, finding only a skeleton, boney remains of a pancreas gone sour.
Was the man in the purple shirt wasting, too?
Were his reedy legs once thick as 20-year maples?
Did a burly chest once press barbells twice his weight?
Or was his T-shirt the vestige of another, who slipped into the narrow crevasse splitting health and disease,
that harrowing hollow we all race across between hope and heartbreak, endurance and inevitability?
"Two close friends I worked with in a Baltimore steel mill have died of pancreatic cancer. I miss them."