The dust of superhuman speedy heels has cleared. The din of the cheering crowds has subsided. Those of us watching from our "stands" at home have turned away from our television sets, sharing contented smiles and an inner glow of satisfaction. We've seen a good show. We've had a good time.
We celebrated triumphs on both a national level and an individual one. The United States returned home the proud winners of 97 medals. Russia managed to garner 88 despite the economic and social hardships it faces due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Australia proved itself to be more than just an hospitable host by winning 60 medals--a stunning count considering their population numbers a mere 19 million (compared with China's 1.264 billion).
At the close of these XXVII Games, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, was once again able to state with conviction: "These games were the best Olympic Games ever."
|I realized that the Olympic Games are more than simply celebratory, they are truly Messianic.|
My flight back to the States gave me hours for personal reflection, a time punctuated periodically by the requisite crying child and the growling of my stomach due to tin trays of tasteless Kosher airplane food--and you thought "normal" airline food was bad! In the recycled air of the international flight, and induced by exhaustion, hunger, and lack of oxygen, a moment of lucidity did come. I realized that the Olympic Games are more than simply celebratory, they are truly Messianic.
Think about it. The event allows for the coming together of nations that otherwise would be deemed politically and socially impossible. There is, at the Games, a sense that we are all, for once, cut of the same cloth. We are all in the same race. We are all playing by the same rules: the rules of dignity, decency, and humanity. Isn't this a foreshadowing of the Messianic age, when we will all recognize G-d's image in each other naturally.
Let me explain with a story. I had the honor of watching the finals of the 110-meter hurdles. The gold medal went to a Cuban contender, while Americans won both the silver and bronze. Imagine the picture that was created during the medal ceremony. Not only did a Cuban man stand between two Americans, not only did the three hug and congratulate each other for the glory of their victories, but also a Cuban flag was raised flanked by two American flags.
Have we ever seen this before? Will we ever see this again? The Olympics are the place where the impossible happens. We are, for two weeks, not so much Cuban or American, communist or democrat, struggling nation or world power. For a relatively brief period of time, we recognize that we are all human.
What is it then that we are able to grasp through these Olympic Games that we do not achieve in political or religious interactions?
At the Olympics, there is a common recognition of the dignity of humankind that we are wont to find in other relations. At the games all human beings--male and female, black and white, Jewish and Muslim and Buddhist and Christian--are recognized for the innate worth that comes with the marvelous instrument of the human body and the human spirit. As a result, we are expected to give this instrument its due respect. Thus, the "loser" congratulates the winner, and the winner accepts the medal with quiet humility. When these unwritten rules are broken, even the most impressive of athletes falls from the favor of the crowd. And likewise, a stunning show of humanity can earn the runner, who places second to last, a standing ovation from a massive Olympic crowd.
What would happen if we all followed these same "rules of the games" in our daily interactions? Are we not all remarkable and worthy by the very fact that we were created by G-d? Should we not treat others with the level of reverence that this affords? While there is something truly awe-inspiring about watching humans achieve magnificent feats, we should recognize the awe that the simple fact of being human earns.
We are all remarkable. Even if we are not able to leap tall hurdles or flip three times before gracefully landing on our feet, we are still innately, incomparably remarkable because of our ability to laugh and to inspire laughter, to think, imagine, empathize, and reason. These are all feats as worthy of respect as any athletic display of ability.
Let us remember that truth long after the cheers fade.