Mind if I join you?

“Mind if I join you?”

The man in the jacuzzi looked up at me and smiled. I noticed a missing tooth. “Knocked it out while pulling myself out of a sinking ship,” he cheerfully explained later.

I sank into the simmering water and exhaled. My muscles unraveled and my eyes closed momentarily.

When I opened them, I noticed the man doing a series of exercises. Swimming in place. Swirling his arms. Tai Chi meets water aerobics. I also noticed that despite his white hair and wrinkles, he was incredibly lean and strong.

“Do you swim every day?” I asked him.

“Every day,” he said. “First thing in the morning I go swim in the ocean.”

He explained that this jacuzzi swirl-a-thon was his second swim of the day. He’d already plunged himself into the sea earlier that morning.

“Some days, like today, it’s so gray and cold and windy in the morning,” he continued. “I just don’t want to go into the water.”

“But you do,” I said. “What gets you into the water when you don’t feel like it?”

He paused. His gaze drifted west, towards the sea, contemplating.

Then spoke clearly and deliberately.

“I have my excuses not to go. Then I have my reasons to go. When I line them up side by side, my reasons are always stronger than my excuses.”

We soaked in silence for a few moments. His words echoed in my mind.

I spoke again:

“You know how good you’re going to feel after your swim. That reward. That’s your reason to go.”

He nodded.

“Even though I don’t always want to do it, I have never stepped back onto the sand after a swim… and regretted it. Afterwards? I am always glad I did it. Always.”

Then he told me about a celibate Chinese monk he knew back in the 70s who loved to assemble color TVs and flirt with ladies (“In my next lifetime, you and me,” the monk would tell them saucily). Oh, and the rest of the story about his tooth. Then I read him a passage by Emerson and we said goodbye.

I left the jacuzzi feeling grateful that I’d engaged in a conversation with an elder instead of texting, stuffing iPod earbuds into my ears, or finding some other way to check out.

I also left wondering about my excuses and my reasons.

My excuses not to write. My excuses not to hit the gym. My excuses not to leap, risk, be brave.

My reasons to share. My reasons to challenge my body and mind. My reasons to soar, commit, go all in.

The old man from the sea taught me something I’ll never forget:

When it’s time for a gritty, bloody-knuckle showdown between my excuses and my reasons?

My reasons will always win the battle.