I have come down with a case of Olympic Fever, finding myself pinned to the couch to see if the women’s water polo team will win their preliminary match against China, and if so by how much because point differential matters. I cannot turn off the beach volleyball, or the synchronized diving, or the rowing, and now that track and field has begun I must give up all pretense of living life as I would normally live it. Within me, of course, there still lives a young athlete who trained daily so that I might come in first. Sometimes when you came in first you were given a ribbon or a trophy, or in very big races, a gold medal. The simplicity of one’s objective in sports is clarifying. Moreover, the unique drama of the starting line, the hushed severity of the officials, validated the hours of tedious repetition needed to perfect what was ultimately a simple task.
Watching the runners, my wife asked me if I missed it and I admitted I did not. I do not miss coming in first or second or third or fourth. I quit running when I understood that winning or losing did not actually matter to me any more. At that time, I had begun writing in earnest, had begun to glimpse what the artist in me longed for and which was mysteriously accessible through written words.
There, for me, was the actual gold, and no medal would ever match it. And yet I love to watch these athletes. I love their desire for elusive perfection. I love the singularity of their focus, their camaraderie, their mastery. Humans are such beautiful creatures when they care about what they are doing. It is hard to watch them sometimes when they do not win their medal, when they stand at the finish line in exhausted disappointment, the blank question of their face as they trying to reassemble the meaning of all they have worked for.
I know that look so well. It asks, “Why is it I feel gold within me but do not see it in my hand?” It is a question every human is born to ask, and it is all our desire to understand the perfection of the empty hand.
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