Run your own race. Don’t worry about what that one is doing, what this one is doing . . . Joan Rivers
Youth has no age. Pablo Picasso
I said it in yoga a few mornings ago, that we are all Olympians, champions of our own lives. And, when we are living these lives from the inside out, following the guidance of our own inner coaches, we feel it and we know it, that any moment has the potential to be podium-worthy, that every breath we take can be golden. And who can possibly judge what constitutes a gold medal moment for someone else?!? Sure, the Olympics inspire. It is exhilarating to watch these athletes from all over the world light up with passion and skill and brute strength, to witness as gymnasts fly, literally fly, through the air, as runners take off with a cheetah’s speed and grace, as swimmers, with their paddle-like feet and hands, stretch out long and propel themselves through water, as volleyball players react to a play before we, the cheering squad, have time to even focus on what they are reacting to. It is a pleasure to celebrate their beautiful bodies and their soaring spirits and the races that come together for them in a way that seems triumphant.
And the pleasure of the Olympics began for me in Maine, the weekend of my mother’s Memorial Service. Cam and I, along with our son, Chris, had flown into Portland the day before, and, Friday, after a full afternoon of sorting through Mom’s treasures at my brother’s house, and a lobster roll at the famous sea-side shack, Reds, in Wiscasset, the three of us headed into Brunswick, to Frontiers, for a salad and desert. I had learned about Frontiers from my friend, Muriel, and I’ve become a regular on my recent trips to Maine at this hip café/art gallery/movie-theater located in a renovated mill on the banks of the Androscoggin. I knew that Cam and Chris would love the location and the ambience and the locally-harvested food; I had no idea, however, that the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games would be playing in their adjoining theater on the wide welcoming screen. So, while sharing a warm peach and blueberry cobbler, we, along with fifty or so other fans, watched as England, in its English sort of way, took us on a journey through British history and carried us forward to the present moment that we’d been anticipating when the eager and smiling athletes marched and waved their way into the stadium. It was a rousing full-screen beginning to these games. And throughout the weekend in Maine, we kept ourselves updated, as Bradley Wiggens and gang pedaled the streets of London, as Phelps and fellow swimmers splashed their way onto the podium. These Olympians and their games provided a joyous backdrop to the weekend in Maine, but the up-close and the personal, the interactions with friends and family, the countless ways that we all rose to the occasion – no matter what our age or physical prowess – they were the moments that were truly golden.
George Dole, the minister at Mom’s Memorial Service is a family friend, someone who has known my mother his whole life. Although George never ran in the Olympics, in 1954, while attending Oxford as a graduate student, he had his own athletic moment. George was a distance runner, and, on a spring day nearly sixty years ago, he, along with several other participants, lined up at the Oxford track to compete in the Mile, a race that will be etched in our minds as the most famous mile ever. George came in fifth with a respectable time. Another man, a young British runner, however, flew through the finish line, smashing a barrier that had seemed impenetrable. It was the race in which Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. And it must have been exhilarating, the moments that followed, for the runners, for the fans in the stands, for the whole world as people realized the impossible had become the possible. I’m sure that it was exciting for George, too; he lights up when you ask him about it. However, I never even knew to ask him about it, until Pete, our son, took off on his own distance running journey. When Pete began shattering records in high school, it was my Uncle John, Mom’s younger brother, who told me about George’s infamous race. Since my childhood, I had known George as a scholar, theologian, translator, and a sweet family friend with a toothy smile and a twinkle in his eye. I don’t think he brushed away the thrill of that record-shattering day; I think he soaked it in. And then I think he moved on to other glorious moments, moved on with the things that he loves, with his scholarly pursuits, with his family life, with his running. George, in his eighties now, is still running, careful jaunts around the streets of his coastal town in Maine. His legs may have slowed down, but his spirit, filled with enthusiasm, is strong.
And in the short sermon that George shared with the congregation at Mom’s service, he addressed this issue of bodies slowing down as we get older, how this can be distressing for those who hold tight to the past, to the youthful vigor of an unlined face and a hundred-yard dash. To go the distance, the whole nine yards, to live a long and fruitful life, he reminded us, we need not only to honor these bodies, this flesh and bone matter we house ourselves in; we also need to cultivate our inner life, the life of our spirit, the life that is eternally young, that lights up this matter no matter what our age. It was a perfect sermon for my mother whose laugh became brighter as she grew older and perfect for me as I find myself in my mid-fifties eager for more and more light and delight and perfect for my sons who are still filled with youthful vigor. And, later, when people were telling stories, my cousin, Greg, stood up and shared a memory. Greg’s father, Gordon, was my mother’s first cousin, and, born a year apart, they were best friends. He moved to Florida as an adult and he and his wife, Janet, raised Greg and his siblings there. So, although, I only knew Gordon through stories, my mother kept in touch, traveling to Florida with my Aunt Nancy for six weeks each winter during her later years. Greg shared how my mother, after one of her many strokes in her late eighties and walking wobbly with her cane, and Gordon, beside her, after the brain tumor and blind in one eye, also wobbly, locked hands and laughed. “I don’t feel old. I don’t feel old at all! Do you?!?”
So there you have it. We’re all Olympians! Gordon and my mother shared a gold medal moment! And Pete, after the service, visited with George — both scholars, who have studied at Oxford, both runners who have had their moments of glory, one in his early thirties, one in his eighties. I know they talked about that race where Bannister broke the four-minute mile. And why not?!? We bring those exhilarating peak moments into the present when we remember and share. We feel them again. And then we move on to the next moment and a new opportunity to light up and shine.