Kinship with Losers

I love the Olympics, even if they are an economic, social and political nightmare.

When I was younger, I used to marvel at the sheer and shining brilliance of the three athletes on the medal stand. Whichever three athletes; whichever three medals. The sport didn’t matter. Mastery mattered. Those three athletes who triumphed above all others through preposterous trials of competence to be crowned the best. All hail the winners. Cue anthem.

Only now, I begin the recognize the actual beauty on display. The opening Olympic ceremony is a parade of people who have dedicated themselves to improbable, ridiculous dreams. Most of these people will not be winners. Most won’t get medals. Most won’t be interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel or Katie Couric. Most won’t appear anywhere in the four hours of nightly prime time coverage. They will go home battered and bruised, some of them broken. Some will get a hero’s welcome but then are quickly forgotten. They’ll take jobs they may or may not enjoy. They’ll have kids and grandkids. Maybe their kids and grandkids will care. Maybe they won’t.

It doesn’t matter. These people burn with weird, impossible, potentially useless urges. They want to push a stone across the ice, 126 feet from hack to tee. Or they want to hurl themselves together in crowded circles at breakneck speeds on millimeter thin blades in races where victories and defeats are defined in hundredths of a second. Or they need to send themselves head first down perilous tubes at interstate traffic speeds with only a helmet and a St. Christopher’s medal. Who sells these kinds of people life insurance?

And then there’s me – this 44 year old person who has spent the last 34 years trying to write a beautiful sentence in hopes that a beautiful sentence might somehow lead to a beautiful paragraph and then a beautiful page and, perhaps, most ridiculous of all, a beautiful story.

There’s no parade for this weird desire. No procession to show the world. No anthem. No medal. No primetime coverage.

I feel tremendous kinship with these Olympic losers, these ridiculous dreamers. We are always working, seldom winning, dreaming our ridiculous, improbable, wonderful dreams.

Excellence Inspires Excellence

I watch the Winter Olympics, and I feel like writing.

I see the forceful, elegant, laser-focused precision of speed skaters and feel like writing.

I see the massively brave lugers hurtling just beneath the edge of disaster, one twinge or tickle away from catastrophe. I feel like writing.

Its the audacious, reckless freedom of snowboarders. The tightly-controlled strength and artistry of ice skaters. The ability of  skiers to lean in when their brains should be telling them to lean back. The relentless endurance of cross-country skiers.

It all makes me feel like writing.

The truth is this happens all the time. It happens when I watch So You Think You Can Dance. It happens when I watch The Voice. Excellence inspires excellence.

I notice excellence and I feel grateful. I am grateful not only for the performance they have shared. I am grateful to have glimpsed the thousand previous unseen performances hiding inside that one moment of public brilliance. I am grateful when I can see the shape of all those early mornings, late nights. The bruises and cuts and frustrations. The satisfactions delayed. The sacrifice of normal life to achieve something extraordinary.

And here’s the thing. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or a world-class dancer or an astonishing singer to feel the draw. There is something inside of you that wants expression. There is something inside that wants you to commit. There is something excellent that wants to get out.

When I watch the Winter Olympics, I am not watching only the beauty of that one, rare performance. I am watching the urgent, inspiring beauty of a lifetime commitment.

You have it. I have it. It is time for us to get started.