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Confronted by truth, in the men’s sauna

Adam Beasley
5 min readJan 20, 2019


With a title like that, this could go a myriad of ways, but this one’s going to take an unexpected turn. But first, let me set the scene of why this was so significant.

First off, it’s the first part of January and, while I’ve never officially set any resolutions for myself, I am using the first part of this year as a reset. Reset back to eating the way that I’m supposed to, reset on getting to the gym two or three times per week, and taking times to be mindful and meditate so that my brain gets the rest it needs.

Secondly, I’m an average white guy, living in a decent area of West Michigan, fifteen minutes outside of Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids. I am a UX designer at a desirable IT company and I love what I do and I get paid enough so that we can pay our bills; some months we cut it pretty close, but we make it.

So now, what’s with confrontation in the sauna?!

Back to the gym; I had finished my workout and was heading into the sauna. I was going to set my Headspace app for ten minutes of meditation and hope that my noise-canceling headphones silenced enough so that I could just live in my own head for a while. It was a typical scene, five men in too-small towels, sharing a polite “hello” or “how’s it going” as we walk in, and then avoiding both eye contact and any conversation that might be deemed weird because we’re all half naked. But, every so often, there’s always a brave soul, willing to push past the awkwardness and engage in an actual conversation. In this case, there was a kind-looking, recently retired white guy, with glasses, a towel, and what appeared to be some religious literature. He looked like he was a bit nervous, but also ready to talk.

So the five of us look at each other and nod or say hello, and the nervous guy clears his throat and says, “Guys, it’s a new year, and I’m here to ask you, what is the most important decision you can make every day this year?”

We all give a knowing look to each other, two other white guys, and an African American guy, and prepare for some discomfort, and figure out what version of “polite” we’re going to be. We’ve all been here before. I admire nervous guy’s courage to share. To him, sharing Jesus is the most important thing he can be doing. But I’ve seen this play out poorly too many times. People who want to hear about salvation know where to look, most cities in the US have no shortage of churches. And often, religion can be oppressive and judgemental, unlike Jesus, depending on who is dishing it out.

As I’m slipping my headphones back in my ears, preparing to close my eyes and duck out of the tension that just permeated the room, much like the heavy steam clouding our vision, the African American guy next to me sits up a bit, and said, “Well, I wake up and think about what I can do to make it through the year.”

I take my headphones out.

This just got real.

I turned to take a look at this brave soul. He’s in his mid-forties, tall, in good shape, with short braids in his hair. I look briefly in his eyes and check to see if he’s being sarcastic, or joking in any way. He’s not. He’s not being dramatic, like a Shakespearean actor trying to draw us into the gravity of his statement. He’s serious, but he’s also casual; his statement said in the same tone that I would tell you what I had packed for my lunch today. And the weight of it crushes me.

He wakes up daily, calculates his commute, thinks through his day, and determines the steps he will take to not get killed today.

Every damn day.

I flush with a little embarrassment and guilt, knowing that I, after doing a little internal eye-roll at nervous guy’s question, had briefly thought, “My 2019; I need to relish my time with my kids, I’d like to continue doing the work I’ve been doing, I’d need to be sure not to eat dairy or carbs, or other food that might trigger me to lose my healthy-eating resolve, I need to keep contributing to my 401k” and this man thinks about the steps he must take each day…to stay alive.

Nervous evangelist fumbles a bit. This didn’t quite go as he’d planned. He tries to recover, but the moment is lost and he knows it. But he’s kind of okay with it, he feels the weight of it too.

We all say more words, but it’s just buzzing. I am completely blindsided, lost in thought and a bit dizzy with sadness and anger at the injustice that a person, sitting two feet from me, with the same goals of staying fit, providing for his family, and pursuing contentment, has to ponder his own mortality and the very real possibility that he could be killed just going about his day, on a regular basis, while I sat there thinking about trying not to eat as much cheese as I did last year.

So, while I say #blacklivesmatter with a lot more empathetic conviction today than I did yesterday, if your first thought is, “But all lives matter,” stop. Don’t say it, push that thought from your head momentarily. Yes, your life matters, my life matters. But in a YMCA sauna, with four white guys and one African American guy, only one of us had the actual thought of not making it through 2019 alive.

If you are in a place where you don’t have to strategize through the steps of your day to avoid being perceived as a threat and killed, be silent and listen. Listen to your fellow humans who live daily under that crushing weight. Don’t tell them to be silent, but instead listen well. And then see what you can do about it.

And what about the African American man in the sauna? I don’t know yet, but I’ll look for him next time I’m at the gym. But if we’re half-clothed in the men’s sauna, I might not lead with “You inspired me to write a post,” because that would just be too weird.



Adam Beasley

Husband, father, son. Michigan native, 3rd culture kid. Design Lead at Vervint by day, hobbyist mountain biker & weight lifter, cheeseburger enthusiast.