Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. – Socrates
This week presented a rare unexpected treat: an early look at the Olympic performances to come. I’m gearing up to clear my schedule, although I’m not quite sure what it is about the Olympics I love so much. I’m not a dedicated a sports fan, but the Olympics seem to go beyond sport. Upon reflection, I think my love for the Olympics is explained by the same reasons that July 4th is my favorite holiday; it’s the sense of patriotism and togetherness, which wonderfully combines to produce that nebulous subject of many a recent article and New Year’s resolution: awe.
Team and Togetherness
Seeing these young athletes compete and perform as team USA is inspiring. Giving of one’s self for team is an admirable thing, perhaps more so, as it is a weakness of mine. I often prefer to work alone. But sometimes, I find the alone-ness can become too much. Watching young athletes come together to compete for their country is an amazing thing to me. It makes me grateful to be a part of it, even as a distant viewer, as I am similarly grateful to all the men and women who strove and persevered to protect our freedom.
Likewise, in watching the amazing physical feats unfold, there’s a sense of being swept away from our own troubles. Much like a good book, it’s wonderfully easy to lose yourself in their stories, and the nail-biting competition.
During the depression, movie-going reached an all-time high, despite disposable income being virtually non-existent for many families, even at pricing of 35 cents a ticket. Some of this may be explained by escapism. I do think we need an outlet every now and then. People aren’t designed to be miserably immersed in their own difficulties all the time. Seeing misery all around, stamped on the faces of friends and neighbors, is disheartening, and it’s easy to become downtrodden.
New York times columnist, David Carr, says And I think when darkness is intruding from every direction, people like to go in a room and hold hands and stare at a little campfire in common.
It is removing this separateness of self that so appeals, a coming together in support of something bigger than ourselves. The promise is that for a time we will all be viewing together, and watching, and waiting, and hoping, and then breathe a collective sigh of relief when the hand touches the wall, or the feet land on the mat. I love that breathless feeling, realizing I had been holding my breath the whole of the routine or race. When it is over, the problems I thought I had been facing, don’t seem as great.
I find myself marveling at the sheer difficulty of the sport and routines these athletes achieve. It seems each subsequent Olympics, the physical requirements increase, always adding an extra second, or foot, or flip, to be at the top. It makes me feel all their hard work and years of discipline has been worth it. I admire their grit, their perseverance, and marveling at all they must have given up to be here at the Olympic games. Seemingly if they can do this, can I not also overcome whatever challenge or issue I may be facing?
I feel similarly about history, reading and hearing stories of ancestors who fought for truth and righteous, and didn’t give up on their dreams. Maybe I too, can find it in myself to reach beyond, to commit to a course, be it work, family, a hobby, or all three, or whatever it is that makes one happy, and follow it, with dogged dedication and determination.
Wonder and Awe
This year is also special, as I look forward to experiencing these Olympics with my daughter. Her amazement and inquisitive questions about what’s she’s seeing, make me view it with fresh eyes. She asks if she can take gymnastics, Will she be able to do this? I smile as I answer, knowing she believes just one trip to the gym will enable her to execute a handspring on the beam. She asks, Did I take gymnastics? I did. Well, then, Can I do this? Again, I laugh visualizing what my miserable attempts at a mere cartwheel would look like. Then, her eyes return the screen, as the gymnast runs, flips and turns, like a little doll, and lands seemingly effortlessly. I see the joy and amazement shining in my daughter’s eyes.
I saw this same wonder on the face of both of my children in viewing July 4th fireworks. As the fireworks began to ascend, and burst in the air, both children peered in awe, quite transfixed. Michael, pointed and said, Oh!! Rainbow! Julia’s face took on a look of enchantment. After the first round of booms, she exclaimed, I am just amazed with my eyes! The next multicolored shimmer brought, It is so pretty! The next large resounding booming type, provoked, Oh my gosh! She giggled her glee, and announced to the general crowd near us excitedly, This is my first fireworks!
Wonder and awe is something that’s easy to lose as we age, when the disillusionment of youth fades, replaced by knowing and acceptance. When I think about the alternatives, I’m not sure I would choose my sedate adult ways over child-like enthusiasm and naivety. I can only hope age will bring a new phase of spirit: peace and wisdom. But, for a time, it is nice to experience wonder again, whether it comes from a firework’s boom-sizzle, a high-flying bar routine, or simply from my child’ smile.