Mogul skier Hannah Kearsey receiving the gold medal.
"Remember thou too art mortal."
— phrase repeated by a generals's slave
celebrating a Roman triumph.
Yesterday at the 2010 Olympic Winter games an interviewer asked pairs
skaters Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig if the skating interfered with
being with their off-ice partners on Valentine's Day. The pair, excited
at a surprising 8th in the short program, happily told the reporter that
they were more than glad to skate the day away in the Olympics, and that
they would celebrate Valentine's the following night. When it comes to
competing in the Olympics, pretty much everything else gets put on the
back burner — even love.
But not always. The death of Georgian luger Levan Gureshidze, as death
usually does, put the Olympics in perspective. Other things across the
years have reminded us of the wider world at large also. In particular
the murder of 11 Israelis at the Munich Summer games in 1972 was a cruel
reminder of fame and mortality. And political events have influenced the
Olympics at least since Berlin 1936.
Nevertheless athletes themselves seem to continue on and somehow remain
above or at least a bit distant from the fray. After years of training, they
push on to try to live their dream and participate in the games; and, hopefully,
to give a good performance and win a medal.
Last night I watched American mogul skier Hannah Kearney get up on the
podium and receive her gold medal. In sports, this is pretty much the
loftiest peak there is.
A very high peak. I got to wondering this morning about those peaks, and
also about the valleys. Those who achieve gold at the Olympics, or in some
cases those who earn silver or bronze, or who simply participate and give
a personal best, will perhaps in some few cases never reach that high point
again in their lives. Others, perhaps most, will go on to other peaks — their
wedding day, perhaps a college graduation or honors for academics or
But there are of course valleys. You don't need to tell an Olympian about
the valleys. Most have devoted years or perhaps decades to their sport. And
often this comes at the cost of great personal and financial hardship. The
valleys are usually wide in life. The peaks few.
I once attended a lecture by a visiting professor of philosophy in which
she presented her analysis of Aristotle's view of happiness. For Aristotle,
she claimed, happiness was not a goal that was eventually reached; but
rather it was the journey to that point, that is the process of what we
do that leads to it. I think the modern phrase "It's not the destination,
but the journey" is in a similar mode.
Olympians who stand on the podium and get a medal will certainly remem-
ber that great moment all their lives. But I think that years down the road,
thinking back on it, it will not be the temporary triumphs that they value
the most. It will be the things in between that we all experience, the greater
bulk of it, daily life, getting up in the morning and falling in the sweet
bed tired at night, the barbecues, the good day at work, time spent with
friends, the dark woods, the laughter, birthdays, deaths, births — the
process of our lives as souls.