I have, my life long, loved the Olympics.
I am the furthest thing from an athlete you could ever imagine, but I will watch the Olympics if it is the first qualifying round of underwater basket-weaving, and root for an athlete from a country I’ve never heard of as if that athlete were my own flesh-and-blood and said basket-weaving my heart’s true passion.
I love the Olympics so much that I recognized Tim Daggett from the floor of the gymnastics arena this year before his name even popped up. He competed in 1984, people. I was 9 years old. I can’t even tell you for sure the whole line-up for the Louisville City Football Club, and I LOVE those guys. But Tim? I got him.
Last night, I came to the realization that I just might be done for 2021 and Tokyo. Rewatching a season of Criminal Minds sounded better for me. And my soul.
This breaks my heart. Because man there are some great stories out there. Suni Lee absolutely killing it under awful circumstances for her team. The swimmer from Syria who is not only an Olympian, but who once swam a whole boatload of fellow refugees to safety. For three hours. Three. Hours. The Filipino woman who just won her country their first gold. Their FIRST, y’all. And they’ve been competing since 1924! And the gymnast from Uzbekistan. She’s my age (READ: 40-something). Been competing since I was in middle school. And this year, she just missed qualifying for competition, after years of titles. She’s a damn hero in her country. As she should be.
For so many of these countries, for so many of these athletes, there is everything at stake.
And here in the United States, we act like we have any clue what any of them go through. What any of them sacrifice. From the comfort of our basements and the anonymity of our smart phones, we cast judgment on everything from attire to form to haircuts to race times. We act like they owe us something. “Shut up and dance for us,” we might as well be saying to them, while we keep putting quarters in the jukebox and swigging our beers.
Social media brought me to tears today. Flat-out cruelty. Commentary I couldn’t repeat if I tried. I just don’t have that kind of hate and arrogance in me. Armchair quarterbacks of every ilk, convinced they know what any given athlete “should” do in any given moment.
It’s such BS. I’m so embarrassed at how we raise people up on our flimsy, fairy tale, perfection-demanding pedestals in this country only to celebrate with a sick and evil glee when they falter or make a poor choice.
I sure as hell don’t want my legacy to be my worst moments. Do you?
So. Three things I’m thinking about tonight, with my sad and jaded Olympic heart:
- It is an honor to represent your country in the Olympics. A tremendous one. And, it seems to me, such an honor lends itself to some humility. And I’m not sure I’ve seen anything more humble than Simone Biles encouraging her team to go congratulate the Russian gold medalists. Whatever you think of her decisions, whatever you think her reasons really were (and none of us will ever know the whole story), that was pure class. And very “Olympic.” I was grateful to basketball phenom Sue Bird, too–often critical of her country, but more than willing to allow that the Olympics are different. You’re there to represent your country. That’s the whole point–and there’s pride in that, and a sense of oneness that can be honored. Even if we aren’t all on the same page these days about what it means to be a proud American. It’s like my Curly Girl says, “I can love my country a lot and still wish things were better for all of us.”
- A kind and wise Baptist pastor once said to me, “Julie. Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” “Should” probably ought to be reserved for, “A cup of sugar should do the trick,” or “The dogs should be fine until I get home,” or “The rain this weekend should cool things off.” So maybe let’s keep it for those things. And stop with the “shoulding” on other people. Truth is, everyone’s lived experience is their own–and if you have not lived it, you do not know it, or know what you would do in any given situation.
- One of my greatest weaknesses (and deepest wounds) is placing all my worth in what I can do. Or not do. I spent the vast majority of the first 40 years of my life focused on how I could serve other people with specific acts or tasks, especially how I could please them by doing those things well–to perfection, even. I’m a good writer. But I am far more than that. I am a good speaker. But I am far more than that. I am a cancer patient. But I am far more than that. And I am a mother. But I am far more than that. My worth as a human being is not dependent upon how well I perform in any of my roles, or how well I use any of my natural gifts. I’m worthy because I am me. And I am God’s. And that means my life matters over and against anything I do or say in my life. So does yours. And these athletes? Man. They are amazing. Skilled beyond what can seem mortal. But they are so much more. Not a single one of them is only their sport. Not by a long shot.
We are not well, y’all. We’ve been shaken to the very core of our existence these last few years. In our families. In our communities. In our country. We are not well. And our collective anger, anxiety and grief makes itself known in all sorts of ways. We’re like feral cats backed into a corner — terrified and unsure and willing to strike out at anyone else in our own pain.
Even an Olympic athlete.
Because damn it feels good to revel in someone else’ s pain… instead of dealing with our own.