Seven Minute Workout
I round a corner as Wang from Shanghai inches toward me near the YMCA’s entry desk.
As a hospital-based pastoral counselor, Wang relies on his book, Praying Purposefully. Illness
forced him to retire last year. It’s been overcast all day with no chance of rain, but Wang
wears a ball cap and rain jacket.
We stop three feet apart. As usual, Wang shows no facial expression.
“How’re you doing?” I ask.
Wang shakes his head, tightens his lips, looks to his right, lifts then lowers his left hand.
“I didn’t hear you,” I repeat, knowing full well Wang said nothing.
“Not good,” Wang says, shaking his head, looking toward the ceiling.
“What’s going on?”
“I saw the doctor today,” Wang says, looking down, then straight at Eddie.
Wang forms the letter C with his left hand. He holds it out to his left for Eddie to see.
Then he rubs the C against his navel and moves it in a circular motion over his belly three times.
“What’d the doctor say?”
“I have no prognosis,” Wang says.
“Why can’t they treat it?”
“They’ve been treating it for two years. They’re done treating it. There is no more
treatment,” Wang says.
“I see. What now?”
Wang looks me in the eyes and keeps pointing up until I follow his finger.
Looking Wang in the eyes, I nod, in a near bow. “What can I do?”
“There’s nothing. Pray maybe,” Wang says.
“I will. Nothing else?”
Looking anywhere but at me, Wang shakes his head.
# # #
I later message the YMCA’s membership director to share Wang’s revelations.
Return message: “Thanks for telling me. I’ve let the right people know.”
Next time I’m at the YMCA, I stop by to see the membership director, who says, “The
new director wants to meet you to talk about this.”
“Who is this man Wang?” the director asks.
“He’s from Shanghai, but’s lived here a long time. Joined the Y two years ago. Doesn’t
say much. Till a year ago, his job was consoling the sick and dying and their families at a
“Does he have family?”
“He’s never talked about them.”
“We want to celebrate him,” the director says.
“Nobody in the front office even knows who Wang is. He might think it odd and be
uncomfortably surprised if you suddenly start celebrating him.”
“To begin with, we need to figure out who he is. We want to give him the support he
“Well, Wang’s an expert on pastoral counseling, maybe you should ask him how.”
# # #
A few days later, I’m stripping down as Wang enters the locker room wearing a winter
coat, sweats, and flip flops.
“It’s cold out. You heading to the beach?” I ask.
Wang imitates a smile. “I was wearing new shoes.”
“New shoes can wreck your feet.”
“Usually no problem . . . This time: infection. Losing my voice too,” Wang says.
“But that’s something different.”
“No, same: tumor,” Wang answers, almost inaudibly.
“Up here?” I point to my throat.
“It affects everything, even my heart.”
Ben, who has the belly of a sumo wrestler, exits the sauna. “Did I hear somebody say
something about the heart?” he asks.
“We were talking about how illness can affect everything,” I say.
“Tell me about it,” Ben answers. “Look at this stomach of mine.”
“You can give some of that to me,” says Wang, whose belly is so wasted it looks like you
could poke a finger through him.
“But I have good news,” interrupts Wang. “My new book comes out soon.”
“How soon?” I ask.
“What’s the title?”
“Healing Insights,” he answers, pulling up his shorts.
Seated in the sauna, eyes shut, for two minutes Wang taps his fingers approximately
twice per second to the corresponding shoulders. Then for two minutes he lunges with both arms,
palms down, and at full thrust rotates his wrists as if turning a key. For three minutes, he rests the
backs of his hands on his knees. Then he stands, exits the sauna, and showers.
When Wang returns to the dressing area, I stop out of the sauna.
“That’s your whole workout?” I ask.
“Seven minutes,” Wang nods.
“How’s your family doing?”
Wang pushes something away with his open right palm, simultaneously turning his head
away from it. “They’ve been through so many things. They’re through with me.”
“You always have this family. We don’t demand anything. . . Tell me, what’s your
“Matthew four five and six, those are the chapters I used to write my new book,” Wang
answers. “Jesus goes into the garden where he is tempted. He climbs a mountainside, sits down,
and gives the Sermon on the Mount.”
“I mean, what healing wisdom would you give to yourself right now in your situation?”
Wang nods. “I would also tell myself to relax.”
“That’s why you’re here.”
“Relax and pray,” Wang says. “I have two rabbis praying for me.”
“But what are they supposed to ask for?”
Wang smiles, “No less than full recovery. Life itself.”
For months, I keep my eyes peeled with no signs of Wang. Nobody knows him so
there’s no one I can ask, “Have you seen Wang?” I finally ask the front desk, “Has Wang been
here lately?” A search reveals that his membership card hasn’t been scanned in three months.
Checking further, they say, his membership was terminated shortly after I last saw him. I look
for someone to tell, “I think Wang is dead.” Nobody has a clue who I’m talking about.
Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after a rewarding career in public health research. With a graduate degree from Howard University, in six years he’s published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, photography, and hybrid in over 175 journals and anthologies on five continents. Publications include 580 Split, Bombay Gin, Burningword, Camas, Columbia Journal, Friends, Journal, Hippocampus, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Kestrel, Lunch Ticket, Manchester Review, Newfound, Ruminate, Stonecoast, The Atlantic, and Typehouse. Jim’s recently-published photo essays include Barren, DASH, Kestrel, Litro, New World Writing, Sweet, So It Goes, and Wordpeace, with Typehouse forthcoming. Jim has also published graphic nonfiction pieces based on old postcards, such as Barren, Ilanot Review, and Litro, with Palaver forthcoming. A nonfiction piece led to appearances in a high-profile documentary limited series broadcast internationally. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five little ones—split their time between city and mountains.