I was gone for seventeen days and nights and I’m not sure where I’ve been.
I started out in front of a television set showing me a place called Russia. Athletes wearing rainbow-colored gloves to protest the country’s anti-gay policy, the fear of terrorists, and then news of bloodshed in Kiev. Somewhere in the middle of all that was the mention of some sporting events.
During the opening ceremony, one of the speakers urged the participating countries not to place the burden of politics upon the shoulders of the athletes. Good advice. Was anybody listening?
Yes, they were listening.
Every night for about two and a half weeks I watched some of the most dedicated and talented athletes in the world rise high above the trappings of this world, fly high for a brief moment, and then land back down among us – reminding me that we’re all human beings, and we’re all on the same team. We always have been.
I’m an American, and a patriot, so I wanted the U.S. team to win. But I was so happy when the old Russian bobsledder won gold, and I held back tears when the ice skater from that same bold, cold nation skated off the ice in pain to begin an unexpected retirement in front of a stadium full of bewildered fans.
There were many falls, so many falls, and at least one cracked helmet. Athletes barely out of high school, and some still in it, pushed their bodies to the breaking point, and then let their souls pick up where their bones and muscles left off.
There were tears that reflected every emotion from joy to pain and disappointment. And there were smiles that were more brilliant than the snow bathed in the afternoon light that reflected off the Black Sea.
There were fashion statements, and not just on the ice skating rink, although the most colorful thing on that ice some nights was Gracie Gold’s lips.
There was the guy with the dreadlocks who looked like he was about to lose his pants, but the only thing he really lost was his bonds to the earth as he skimmed across the hard-packed snow and then tumbled upward, upward, around and around, and then (leaving us behind in a flurry of white powder) went down, down, down to the bottom of the hill.
Our first gold medal was plucked off the podium by a virtual unknown, and some of our stars imploded long before they reached the Final Act.
I didn’t just watch the games; I absorbed them. And I allowed them to draw me in. Only during the Olympics do I feel myself this transformed and taken away, until my television became a portal between two worlds – one where it is safe and real and the other, where there is the possibility of greatness.
I can’t imagine spending four years of my life preparing for something that is over in minutes.
I can’t imagine carrying the burden of my team and my country on my shoulders for so long.
And I certainly can’t imagine that I would ever be so taken by a singular sporting event, filmed thousands of miles away, that didn’t even occur in real time as the very real events unfolded before me.
I was gone for seventeen days and nights, and I know exactly where I’ve been.