(Printed first in The Circleville Herald, Values for Living, August 10, 2012)
Like millions of others, I’ve been watching the highly entertaining Summer Olympics. The Olympics has it all: touching stories that have led the athletes to this moment; scandals; wrongs made right; justice finally served; fierce competition; patriotism; majesty, beauty, grace. I watch, in awe. Some of the events are so impressive; I wonder how the athletes even begin to train. Synchronized diving for example. How does one even begin to know how to practice to hurl oneself through the air, in the exact same way as a partner you can neither clearly see nor touch?
My friend posted this on face book:
Me, watching the Olympics: “Oh wow, THAT was impressive!”
Announcer: “Oh no! Another disastrous mistake!”
Exactly, I thought. That’s it exactly! We mere mortals watch, amazed at what these human beings can do. While at the same time, the athletes themselves, the judges, the coaches, and certainly the competitors look for the tiniest flaw in their performance.
And this tendency to observe others and ourselves through a lens of either grace or criticism isn’t limited to the Olympics. A friend says, “You look great!” You think, “I need to lose weight.” A child, new to the art of bike-riding, pedals furiously down the walk past 3 whole houses before falling. His parent says, “You did it!” The child cries, “I hate that stupid bike!” An unemployed and grief-stricken brother, who has secluded himself against the light of day for far too long, finally emerges, showered, shaved, to apply for a simple job in a warehouse. You consider showing your approval with back flips, but contain yourself to an enthusiastic, “Way to go, bro!” He replies, “I probably won’t get it.”
In the electronic glow of the TV I see the athletes standing tall wearing their respective medals: gold, silver, bronze as the music of a familiar anthem rises. They smile impossibly wide. Their families cry. Flags wave.
If only we could each see the things we do through such a lens. Some days, getting out of bed and going into the world should be worthy of a medal. Often, we fall when we land, instantly forgetting all the strength it took to get us through the gymnastics that preceded the fall. Very few of us will ever come close to Olympic competition, but every one of us it seems deserves a medal at some point. Life is hard. Few get the gold. But there is much to be said for continuing to train and staying in the game.