Missing table fellowship…

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “Missing table fellowship” or “Sometimes I feel isolated”…either would have been an appropriate title.

So what do I mean by that?

Many of you know that I have lived with MS (multiple sclerosis) since 1976. It’s gone mostly pretty well–at least since the first five years. Because of the vagaries of this auto-immune disease, there is some unpredictability to my life. I’ve learned to live with that.

But there’s one change MS has made to my experiences that creates that sense of loss. The one constant in my schedule is a daily nap. Sometimes it’s as short as 30 minutes; other times it’s as long as a couple of hours. There’s no specific time I have to take it–but I usually do it around noon. That’s what sometimes makes me feel isolated.

When I go to retreats or other all-day events, the schedule is often very full, with meetings leading right up to lunch and beginning again shortly after lunch. So my choices are (a) to forgo my nap…which really isn’t a choice, because if I do skip the nap, I suffer the consequences the next day, or (b) skip lunch in order to take my nap. Obviously, my choice is (b).

But that means that I miss table fellowship. It’s more than just sitting around the table, eating. It’s the visiting, the sharing, the continued development of community.

The people that I attend these events with are always very nice and very welcoming…but I often feel a little bit on the outside because I’ve missed that time of fellowship. (And when I fill out surveys afterwards, I usually mention that concern.)

There have been some events that I’ve attended where the schedule is wonderful! There is time set apart after lunch for everybody to spend some quiet time however they choose…napping, meditating, walking… At those events, I feel fully a part of the community, and I am very appreciative of the sensitivity of the schedulers.

I’m not casting blame on anyone. We’ve traditionally filled our schedules full, trying to get the “most bang for the bucks” when we pull a group of people together for these types of events. Sometimes, when I’ve mentioned my need for some time for a nap, the schedule has been arranged to allow that–not just for me, but for others who might find it useful as well.

I’m wondering if maybe it’s time that we consider that a period of intentional quiet time should be an important part of a scheduled event. I may use it for a nap (and so might others)…some might use it as an opportunity for meditating, walking, processing the events/information of the morning…

Maybe the Spanish custom of a siesta after lunch is something we should consider more seriously!

Crazy…or dedicated…or both?

I always enjoy watching the Olympics–both the summer and winter games. But the winter games have some of the sports that I watch because I think the competitors are crazy! I can’t imagine hurtling down an ice track at 90 miles an hour on a very small sled with only a helmet for protection–but I love watching the luge. The bobsledders aren’t quite as crazy–but I still can’t imagine doing what they do. And don’t even get me started on the snowboarders doing the half-pipe…or the skiiers…not to mention being a woman being tossed into the air and coming down on very thin blades in the pairs ice skating!

Yes, I think they’re crazy…but they’re also dedicated. As I listen to their stories–the hours of practice they put in every day…the sacrifices they (and their families) make in order for them to fulfill their dreams–I am, at times, in awe of their dedication.

And it makes me wonder…what do I have such a passion for that I would give up everything else that is part of a “normal” life in order to have a chance to be the best in the world? After all, realistically the odds of any of these athletes making it to the top podium is pretty slim–less than 3%. Many of them know that they will never get any of the TV coverage that the superstars know…that they may go to multiple Olympics without making it to the podium…and yet they believe so strongly in their chances and their passion that they find it worth continuing the practicing and the competing.

What would our world be like if we had that same kind of passion for being the best person we can be? or for caring for our environment? or caring for each other?

Would we be considered crazy? or dedicated? or both? It would certainly be worth finding out!

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.

…to be free…

There are a couple of quotes that have been rolling around in my mind this last week:

“…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Hamlet”

I know…there are specific contexts for both of them, but there’s also a broader truth that I’ve been thinking about because of the stories about Caitlyn Jenner.

Bruce Jenner was a part of my extended family for a few years, although I did not know Bruce well because Bruce and Chrystie lived in a different part of the country.

But as I (along with thousands of others) saw Bruce’s interview with Diane Sawyer and then saw Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, I was struck by one thing in particular…the eyes.

I have an autographed picture of Bruce after the Olympic win. It is a pretty typical celebrity photo…and for many years I didn’t really see anything special in it. But when I saw Caitlyn’s picture, and compared it with this earlier picture, I was struck by the peace that I saw in Caitlyn’s eyes. They don’t look haunted, like I now see in so many of the pictures I see of Bruce.

And I was struck by Caitlyn’s comment that she is “now free”…free to be who she has thought she was for so many years.

I know that many people are tired of hearing about the Jenner transition. Others rave about how heroic Jenner is. And others just don’t understand it. I’m somewhere in the middle of all of this.

Would I call Caitlyn a hero? No…but I certainly call her brave. She has been the butt of jokes for a number of years, and to face them head on like she has…and to openly share the story of her journey…is certainly brave. And I salute that bravery. Not just for her but also for the many transgender young people who have felt like they have had to hide who they are…but who now have another role model for becoming real.

There have been many comments about how Caitlyn “of course” looks gorgeous…why wouldn’t she with all the help she had in preparing for the cover shoot? Is that really so wrong? Who of us wouldn’t want to look the best we could if going through something this important in our lives?

Some who knew Bruce as a younger person have commented that Bruce was not a pleasant person…so is Caitlyn going to be any different? I hope so. Part of that hope comes from Caitlyn’s comments that “I have high hopes that Caitlyn is a better person than Bruce. I’m very much looking forward to that.”

When one is true to oneself, then I think it becomes easier to be nicer to others. You cannot live a lie to yourself without being fearful of exposure to others…and that definitely has to impact how you relate to them.

The furor will eventually die down, and that’s good.

Caitlyn is now free to be true to herself…and I hope and pray that the days are not too far away when other transgender people who are hiding themselves will be able to be true to themselves…and to be free.

To be an athlete

Let it be said first of all that I am definitely not an athlete! Just ask my brothers!! While I am a musician, somehow that ability to keep time and rhythm didn’t adhere to my physical coordination. In basketball, I would always be called for “traveling.” In gymnastics, I could do somersaults, and that was about it. In baseball, I got hit in the face while serving as catcher. In rhythmic drill team, I could never get the steps straight. You’re getting the picture…right?

But that doesn’t mean that athletics and I don’t get along. We do–as long as I’m watching someone else perform.

And that really holds true as I watch the Olympic games. Yes, I know there are some who are boycotting watching the games for what they consider valid reasons. I understand those reasons–and in many ways support them. But at the same time, I want to support the athletes who have spent so much time and energy preparing to give the best they can on an international stage.

I still think some of them are nuts! I mean, I can’t imagine going down a steep hill on two small pieces of wood (or one, depending on the sport)…launching myself high into the air and turning somersaults….and planning on landing on two feet as I fall out of the sky. Nor can I see myself going 60-70 miles per hour down a steep ice run, not being able to see where I’m going and steering myself with only slight movements of my body. Don’t even ask me about stepping onto the ice on two sharp blades and depending on a partner to throw me into the air and then catch me before I throw myself into another jump!

Some come, knowing they have absolutely no chance of winning medals. But for them, simply having the opportunity to be there…to represent their countries in a positive way…is reason enough for competing.

And then there are those who come in with the expectations of their countries (and in some cases, the world) sitting on their shoulders. They are supposed to win medals–preferably gold, but at least to be on the podium. Sometimes they are able to live up to those expectations…sometimes the expectations are simply too heavy. And sometimes things simply go wrong that are out of their control.

There are several things that made me think about this. One was watching the men’s short program in figure skating last night. I had so hoped that Jeremy Abbott would be able to redeem himself from his horrible fall in the team ice skating event. He didn’t…and yet he did. He took another nasty fall just seconds into his program, and it looked like he might not be able to get up. But he did–and he skated the rest of his program. It wasn’t what he had hoped for in these games, yet he didn’t give up. He could have…but that wasn’t why he was there. I’m hoping that even though his medal hopes are gone that he’ll have a wonderful long program.

I think of Noelle Pikus-Pace who is competing in one of the craziest sports–skeleton. She has also undergone injuries, a miscarriage, and retirement…only to realize that she wasn’t through. She’s back…but this time she has her family with her. She’s found the balance for her between competition and family.

Then there’s Anton Gafarov, the Russian skiier who was competing in the men’s sprint in front of his home crowd. He had a horrible run and was out of medal competition–but he was going to continue, even though it meant walking to the finish line, not skiing. But the Canadian coach gave him a ski–not just giving it to him, but fastening it for him, allowing Gafarov to finish with dignity.

And there are more stories. There always are from the Olympics. There are so many stories and pictures of athletes from different countries celebrating together, worrying about each other, consoling each other…

Somehow, even in the middle of fierce competition, these athletes have found something else important…something that has helped them understand that while they want to win, they want to help each other do the best they can as well. If only we could do the same…

Honoring each other

As I’ve continued to watch the Olympics, I’ve been interested in seeing how the athletes relate to each other after their turn in their events. Sometimes I’ve been delighted at what I’ve seen…other times disappointed.

Just a few of the situations that have stood out to me…

Michael Phelps: I know that there are some who do not like Phelps, and I know that in the past he has come across as arrogant. But as I watched him in the interviews after the relays he was involved in, he made a point of acknowledging his teammates and the role they played in getting the medals…not claiming that it was all due to his incredible swimming ability.

Gabby Douglas: Her performance on the uneven bars was not what she had planned/hoped for, putting her in last place. But she went over to congratulate her opponents–the medal winners–and then in her interview, she acknowledged that she just didn’t have it. No excuses–but still, that beautiful smile.

Lashinda Demus: It wasn’t just watching her run…it was watching her 4-year-old twin sons yelling and cheering for Mom, and then watching her smile and wave to them after she won her gold medal. A beautiful family!

And then, this one. When Liu Xiang was injured in his qualifying meet for the 110 hurdles race he was the favorite in–the second time in as many Olympics that he’s been hurt–he still didn’t give up. He hopped to the finish line–in last place, but he still finished. And then…this, after he was helped off the track by some of his competitors:

His Hungarian competitor Balazs Baji came to Liu’s side and lifted his arm in the air, the way a boxing referee would acknowledge the winner of a fight.

Winning a medal isn’t the only way one wins at the Olympics. Honoring your opponents achievements–even if you are disappointed in your own–makes you a bigger winner in my eyes.

Winners…

I sat in my chair last night, watching more of the Olympics, and thought about what it means to “win.” Who are the winners? Is it just the few who reach the podium? I think  not.

Yes, those who take home medals are definitely winners and definitely to be honored. They perform what seem to be absolutely incredible feats at times, feats I could never imagine doing in my wildest dreams (and that I sometimes cringe, watching). They–and their families–make incredible sacrifices…sometimes willingly, sometimes not so willingly (depending on the culture). They spend hours training, disciplining their bodies and their minds.

But what about those we never hear about? Those who come to represent their countries but who never make it past the qualifying rounds? How should they be described?

Or those who make it into the finals but who don’t end up on the podium? What are they?

Winners!

It’s easy for me to sit in my chair and critique (or criticize) their performances. It’s easy to say, “Oh, there’s no way they should have missed that!”…all the while knowing that there’s no way I could even begin to do the things they do. It’s easy–as I’m sitting there in comfort–to wonder how they could have let their nerves get the best of them…knowing that I’d be likely to be in the bathroom, throwing up out of nervousness.

Just getting to the Olympics makes them winners in my mind–especially when you can tell that they are doing their best. (Those who intentionally try to lose–or those who use unfair means to try to win–are something else, and they’re not the ones I want to talk about.) Many of them come, knowing that they don’t have any realistic chance of standing on the podium, but they are there doing something that they love…that they’ve trained years for…that they want to represent their country in.

Why wouldn’t nerves sometimes get in the way? In some of these events, they’re still just kids…16, 17 years old. They’re competing in front of audiences they’ve never dreamed of…against people they’ve looked up to…under unimaginable pressure.

And so to me, any of the athletes who are there, doing their best, are winners–whether they are standing on the podium or not.