A few weeks back, one of my friends asked me what I had coming up. I instantly replied, “Well, the Olympics start next week.”
She stared at me, then blinked, and then frowned, as if the Olympics coming up had nothing to do with what I had going on. She’s not an Olympics person, to put it mildly. But I am. I completely am.
I love the Olympics.
I love the back stories and the big crowd gasps and the tears of relief and sorrow and joy.
I love the flags. All the flags. Everywhere.
I love new events and old events and first time medals and long-time heroes.
I love to watch with my kids and watch by myself and watch with whoever will watch with me.
The question is…why? What is it that makes me interested in any event that comes on?
I watch these people, and I wonder what kind of person has the audacity to think that they could be the best in the whole world at something. I mean, think about that. To wake up one day and believe that you might be better than everyone else on the planet at something, that you might even have a chance to hold your own against the world’s finest, isn’t that insane? Can you really imagine forming that thought, hatching a plan, starting the long road towards qualifying for the Olympics?
I watch these people, watch them wait at a starting gate or in the center of an ice rink or the top of a mountain, in that moment right before it begins. I think about how much is on the line. I think about how hard they have worked, how much they’ve given up, how many people have sacrificed for this moment right here. And this moment is like the climax of a story, like opening a book to the point where everything is at stake, where it all could go horribly wrong, where the hero must step up and hope that things go in their favor.
And these people- these crazy people- they know that only three will medal in their event, that the majority will go home as Olympians but not as champions. And they do it anyways.
It’s drama. It’s victory. It’s fulfillment of dreams, dreams that were a little on the crazy side but panned out- for a few. Dreams that brought them to the world stage, with the hope of their country, the pride of their family, their lives on hold as they dream full-time.
So here I am, stealing evenings on the couch and afternoons folding laundry as we check the standings and our own little medal count that we’re tracking on the fridge. I’m soaking it in, celebrating the highlights, tearing up now and then as dreams unravel in front of the whole world. My kids are into it with me, giving reports and making predictions and cheering on their favorites.
I hope that the Olympics can teach them something about life and hard work and sportsmanship (thank you, Shaun White) and the reality that things don’t always work out the way you want- even when you try really hard.
I hope they learn to lose with grace, to appreciate their opponents, to take risks, to push past what they know can do.
I hope they can grow up to make space in their own lives, to dare to be truly great at something, to know that even if they fail, their lives will go on to new adventures.
I hope they live in pursuit of something that is important to them, that they have the courage to chase things that might seem a bit much to those around them.
I hope they have the audacity to believe in themselves, the discipline to structure their life around what really matters to them, the wisdom to find the people who get them enough to cheer them on.
I want my kids to strive, not just struggle.
I want them to test their own limits, to know themselves, to find joy in living out the things that make them unique.
I want them to live like something is at stake, like the days piled up on top of each other can actually take them somewhere.
I want them to believe that how they live matters, that who they are in the midst of victory and defeat matters.
And I want them to love a good story. I think that’s what brings me back, every two years, to my three week vigil in front of the TV. I’m a sucker for a story; for a high stakes, all on the line, it’s now or never, kind of story. I want to watch that story, feel that story, live that story.
So for ten more days I’ll be here- watching medal ceremonies into the night and catching snips of interviews on the Today show and explaining to my children for the gazillionth time that Shaun White only snowboards. And then it will be over and I’ll revel in the closure, in the feeling that I can get back to my life, in the knowledge that it will be back in two years.
And I’ll spend those two years living stories of my own, doing my own form of striving, finding the margins in my life where I can sneak a dream or two.