I imagined that Leonidas paid me a visit. Poof, Λεωνίδας himself, right on my front porch! A crest of horse hair topped his helmet. His spear and hoplon shield appeared heavy, legit. But I wasn't afraid.
"Hey Leonidas!" I extended my right hand. "Please come in."
We shook hands and he stepped inside. We stood in awkward silence (well, Leonidas is never awkward) examining each other. He agreed that a drink would be good. I poured him a Diet Coke and he leered at it with skepticism.
"It's good. But yeah, some would say it's poison." I reconsidered, tried to change the subject while getting him a glass of water.
"Sooo, what do you have in mind to do today?" Leonidas stared dumbfounded at the kitchen sink. I held my impulse to throw some ice in the glass, until we establish better rapport. Leonidas was a man of few words. He finished drinking then stood at attention, fully armored, as if awaiting orders.
"I know! Of course we're going to do a Spartan Race." Leonidas nodded and asked, "What is our enemy?"
"It's at a ski resort that's almost 100 miles northeast of here. But it's not a real battle. It's just this obstacle course where you have to run and do various tasks that require physical and mental strength and endurance. Kind of like being a Spartan, right?"
Leonidas looked at me with half of his lip upturned like, "you're serious."
"Won't it be cool to see how an actual Spartan fares in a Spartan Race?" I assumed his lack of response meant that he understood, so we moved on.
"First I need to feed the kids before we leave." He seemed highly disappointed with me because of this, and stated that he was going outside to dig a hole.
"Dig a...Leonidas wait. You can do that right here." I turned on the bathroom light and explained what to do, again to a flat countenance. When I demonstrated the flush Leonidas jumped back and partially withdrew his sword.
"Woah. Easy there."
When Leonidas returned I encouraged him to try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, like the kids were eating. He devoured it and I noticed him eying up the sandwich crusts that the kids left on their plates. He took me up on the offer of a second sandwich.
"You guys are known for being ripped, like, having muscle definition. What kind of diet, I mean, what do you eat?"
"We eat only according to the regulations."
"Even the lieutenants? The warrior kings, like you? Surely you have special privileges."
"All athletes and warriors must refrain from over-indulgence, and usually from wine and cold water."
I was glad I held off on the ice cubes.
"Lets get going."
I grabbed my gym bag and Leonidas grabbed his shield.
"Are you prepared? Do we march to the battle race?"
Leonidas reluctantly got into the passenger seat of the Subaru after plenty of explaining. The drive would afford much time to get to know Leonidas, but I waited until he settled in a bit. He sat clutching the seat with white knuckles.
When we arrived at the scene of the Spartan Race, everyone was giving Leonidas high-fives for rocking the most authentic costume ever. Passersby held impromptu photo shoots with him, each photo revealing a baffled Leonidas. One girl signed his helmet. A guy tried to grab his shield and caught a the upper edge to the throat.
"Dude, he was trying to be friendly. Don't cause a scene."
The moment of the race came and we approached the starting line. I begged Leonidas to drop his shield and weapons, but he was obsessing over something about forming into units of 8 X 4. Some of the contestants were getting annoyed, but most laughed. They asked Leonidas to say it.
"Come on man, let's go, the race is about to begin! Say it."
I nudged him, "C'mon, say it."
"THIS. IS. SPARTAAAAAA."
And with that everyone beat their breasts and pounded fist bumps.
Leonidas had plenty of mental and physical aptitude to handle the race. But from the beginning, he was in too much disbelief to perform very well by our standards. Leonidas wildly charged the man who fired the starting gun. He crushed the spear throw, balance, and climbing tasks, but the tire flips, the barbed wire fence, and the hoses were too otherworldly for him. He almost broke the neck of one of the big guys guarding the finish line beating weary racers with pugil sticks.
Immediately after the race, when volunteers thrust water and beer and fruit in your face, Leonidas clearly had enough. I figured that hitting the road home was the best refuge. After a time of silence, I mustered the confidence to take a stab at conversation.
"So, Leonidas, what did you think about our adventures today? I'd like your opinion on anything..."
He raised his eyebrows. He noticed my cringe, the "Give it to me straight" look.
Leonidas inhaled deeply and said "You people don't truly think that you're..."
"What? No, of course not. We know we're not really Spartans."
After a pause, he continued.
"The West has come a long way. The diversity of people and their physical attributes are stunning. But none of you are warriors. Some of you still suffer in many ways, but clearly, your enemy is comfort. Your concern over how your body appears and performance within tight boundaries - this is not the way of Sparta. There is no women and children, land or slaves on the line here. Not one of you has been forced to prepare and perform as if your very life depended upon it. In most ways this pursuit of fitness is much easier when it does."
"Most of the people at this race either exercise so they can eat or eat so they can exercise, yet they have practically nothing to show for their labor and the resources they consume. Is this not an offense to the earth and your people and your god?"
"What do you suggest we do then, Leonidas?"
"Being a Spartan is impossible in your world. A new, far better way has come. Enjoy it, your freedoms and your food and the work you have to do. Do not forget your extremely rare privileges. So do not worry so much about your lives, what you will eat and drink and wear. If your work is not of the physical variety, the best you can do is seek out some discomfort. Find a battle of sorts because your mind and body still need it.
He went on, and I wanted to thank Leonidas. But when we got to the front porch he was gone.