Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why I Love the Olympics

I know it's corny, but I love the Olympics. From the opening ceremony to the time the torch is extinguished, I'm transfixed. And I always cry when the parade of countries begins, especially the ones represented by one or two athletes. Throat chokes up and the tears just stream.

I remember, with horror, the tragedy unfolding at the 1972 Munich massacre. I was at summer camp and we waited, transfixed, as news of the hostage and then murder of the Israeli athletes, which occurred during our own mini-Olympics, known as the Maccabee Games. When I was in my 20s, the 1984 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. I got tickets for rowing, being held at Lake Casitas, where we'd vacationed when I was a child. I attended track and field and sat slack-jawed at the legendary Edwin Moses.

Why? Why do I love the Olympics? It's more than patriotism, because I don't really care about country of origin. 

I love the Olympics because beyond the obvious display of excellence, what has always amazed me is the single-minded attention to one thing and especially now, I'm drawn to this way of living. My sense is that most of the athletes could have excelled at any number of sports, and probably did, but at a certain point they had to make a choice and commit to that choice. 

I did that for a long time, a single-minded focus on one goal, so I understand that frame of mind, when a passion and a skill come together toward obtaining that one goal. In my case it was theater, although I never achieved the heights that many of the athletes I'm watching achieve. Just arriving at any Olympics game represents such a high level of achievement, a fact that I try to emphasize to my kids. I wince every time I hear these words: "Second place is just the first place loser." Blech. 

How do we measure success? For me, winning is more a state of mind than anything else. And these days, my idea of winning has changed from the broad stroke of fame and fortune to more modest ways:
  • Waking up to freshly brewed coffee that is really strong
  • My kids getting up in the morning all in a good mood and all wanting the same thing for breakfast
  • Finding a matching pair of earrings
  • More than a quarter of a tank of gas in the car
  • Locating the top to my car coffee mug
  • Having enough hot water for four showers before 7:30 a.m.
Get the point? I'm starting to. 

In my life, as well as in the life of so many parents, every day is an Olympic achievement. Just getting out the door each morning ready for our days feels like a slick ride down the slalom run. At school drop off I kiss the kids good-bye, wish them a great day and say a little prayer that we made it to 8:20 a.m. in tact and with  positive energy. And every afternoon when I gather them up, we breathe a collective sigh of relief at our little family unit team making it through it in our separate ways and so happy to reconnect for what is left of the day. 

I celebrate the Olympics because they represent an ideal how many people from different places around the world can  join together for 16 days with the common goals of peace and excellence. They stand for the heights we can achieve and it's great to be reminded of what we can attain, like great music, art and literature. But for most of us mere mortals, as well as for the Olympiads when they retire and must find another way to live their lives, learning to bless the daily successes is equally important. 

All of these little ways of winning add up to equal a great day, or at least one that is a bit easier than others. If I can add in doing work that has meaning, heart-felt communication between myself and those I love, as well as those I cross paths with, then I'm ready to take my spot on any one of those podiums and drape that gold, silver or bronze medal around my neck. 

And you know what? Take a string of those great days and you know what you have? Your life.

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