I was not excited about the 2008 Olympics when it started. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching sports, and I did check out the game schedule a week before August 8. My lack of passion has a lot to do with the year 2008. It started with several pretty bad snow storms, followed by a seemingly endless array of natural, social and political disasters. Many of us were chained to an emotional roller coaster, where the feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, shock, grief, depression and helplessness kept hitting hard. By the month of July I was pretty much overwhelmed, and all I wanted was a vacation, a mental retreat, a hiding place far away from strong emotions, heated debates and fierce accusations. Our country has gone through a lot, why can’t we all just get along?
Then the Olympics started, as planned.
I’ve paid a lot of attention to the Olympics ever since high school. After all, where else could you find such unique entertainment that comes only once in four years. As for this year, it provides me a perfect opportunity to kick back and relax. That’s right; to me this event hardly means anything more than “a collection of games”.
But once again, I found myself unprepared.
I was amazed when 33 year old gymnast and 41 year old swimmer challenged their physical limits and won silver medals, years after they became mothers. I watched with astonishment that someone actually swam 10 kilometers with only one leg. I was touched by the heart-warming gestures of friendship and generosity displayed by many athletes, such as Li Ning, who made a donation to Chusovitina in the hope that her son does not have to fight leukemia any more; and Usain Bolt, who took money out of his own pocket to help children suffering from Sichuan earthquake. I cried when I saw Mr. Steiner from Germany wiping off his tears and kissing his (late) wife’s photo on the medal podium. I laughed watching Mary from NBC taking Kong Fu lessons at the Shao Lin temple. I was happy that the audience were cheering for every great performance and fighting spirit, regardless the athlete’s nationality. I was delighted to see (Jenny) Lang Ping and Luan Ju Jie again, and people were greeting them with an open heart despite the fact that they were not representing the Chinese teams. I enjoyed watching women’s marathon and visualize the ever changing landscape of Beijing. I loved taking a virtual tour of the great wall with cyclists worldwide even if it was raining cats and dogs.
Then it was the closing ceremony.
After athletes from different countries rushed into the stadium from all directions, I felt like a party was about to begin. But all too soon this cheerful atmosphere gave way to the sad reality that it is time to say good bye. Then there was a commercial break from NBC, which happened all too often during the past two weeks. It was for visa, and Morgan Freeman’s familiar voice arose from the background:
“There are six billions of us. We do not always agree…But for a few shining weeks, we put aside what makes us different, and hold on to what makes us—the same.”
I saw this commercial before, maybe once or twice. I remembered being cynical, “Who are you kidding? Russia and Georgia are at war right now.”
But that night it struck me. What is this Olympic spirit everybody keeps talking about? Why most countries take the trouble of coming to this “collection of games”? Apart from great athletic achievement, what lingers in people’s mind? I suddenly realized that with all the conflicts going on in this world, there is love, friendship, tolerance and respect. There is trying your best without worrying about losing your face. There is helping fellow human beings because we are all human beings. These are the things that we are so desperately trying to hold on to. These are the things that may change the world for the better, little by little.
So the moment when all events came to an end, I wished they could last a little bit longer. I wished that in this chaotic world filled with all sorts of negativities, we could take a break once in a while, hopefully more frequently than 16 days in every 4 years.