Our men’s locker room at the county swim and fitness center is the old-fashioned kind. It’s an open, communal space. Unlike the trendy commercial fitness centers there are no private dressing rooms or privacy screens. We see each other and hear each other. And the locker room sometimes takes on a social media aspect. The extraverts talk out loud, even to total strangers, as the introverts listen and analyze. It was that way this morning.
There was a man slumped down and panting on the bench in front of his locker. He was a large and overweight man with an alcoholic appearance. Even though he’d been sitting for some while, he was still breathing heavily. The locker room was quiet except for this loud breathing.
A nearby man spoke up then. “You must have had a tough workout, huh?” he said to the slumped man. “Not really,” the man said, “I feel so bad I don’t do that much. I have a lot of pain.”
“Well, every little bit helps. The main thing is that you’re staying active,” the other man said cheerfully. He was obviously trying to be positive about the situation. But his effort was in vain. Everyone in the locker room heard the next thing the slumping man said.
“I’m ready to just go to sleep and not wake up.”
The words hung heavy in the air and seemed to last on like an echo. There was a silence in the room that also seemed to go on for longer than it actually did. What are fellow humans supposed to feel or say when one of us speaks of wishing to die? What would it take for others of us to want to die in our sleep? Did the slumping man really mean this, or what? Should someone be notified?
Another man spoke up then. “Things can’t be that bad,” he said, “what kind of pain do you have?” The man on the bench said he had back pain and his knees hurt. It was easy to look at him and imagine that being the case. “Well, lots of people have those things,” he said. “Just think about those people on dialysis or who lie in a bed and get fed through a tube.”
And the first man put in that dying in your sleep is certainly a good way to go, but he wasn’t ready to schedule it any time soon. Then he laughed and said, “I think you’re just talking trash with us anyway.”
I wasn’t so sure.