A halfpipe skier had fallen on the Olympic course. And Missy made sure we knew all about it.
“No!” she shouted at the TV screen as the action shifted to other skiers competing and celebrating.
“Right here!” she informed me and Heather firmly, rubbing her shoulder hard to be absolutely clear about where the impact happened.
“Missy, we get it. But she’s OK now, she got up …”
Injuries and stress make a big impression on Missy, the developmentally disabled relative that we’ve been caring for since (has it really been?) 2011. When people cry, she gets upset. When people fall, she remembers. Heck, when fictional characters get hurt, she takes it seriously – a mention of Frodo Baggins getting his finger bitten by Gollum had Missy pointing at and checking out my ring finger for weeks afterward.
It’s a reaction without filters. Raw and undeniable.
And there’s a lot of opportunity for that when Olympic season comes.
Most of us don’t think of that much, outside the moment. After all, the Olympics celebrate the best, right? These are the ones who move faster, go farther and reach higher. It’s about triumph and success, passion and achievement.
Until, abruptly, it isn’t.
We’ve seen it for years. No, for decades, in summer and winter alike. The speed skater with too much on his heart who tumbles to the ice. The ski racer who sprains both knees at a crucial moment. The young athletes – some still young teens – who find themselves at a storm center and no longer have what brought them there.
Even leaving injuries and accidents aside, there are only so many medals. Someone has to fall short. Sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, always with the world watching.
And in those moments, something reaches out to us. Maybe in a way that no other Olympic moment can.
I’m no Olympian. You probably aren’t either. Most of us, however skilled and accomplished we may be, don’t have the sort of talent that tears up ice rinks and grassy fields on a global scale. It’s been joked online that every Olympic event should have an ordinary person competing as well, to bring home just how good these teens and men and women really are.
But in the moments where everything falls short, where the awesome becomes merely human … we know that one. We’ve been there. We can feel it.
Missy’s right. It hurts.
And when our hearts break with it, we reaffirm our humanity.
Most of the time, in most of our lives, it’s easy to not see the pain. To assume that normal is … well, normal. We’re doing OK, so things must not be too bad, right?
When we see the vulnerable, the hurting, the chronically ill, it’s often uncomfortable. It’s a reminder of how quickly life can change without our permission. How easily we could be there.
And if we let that open us up instead of close us off, it means something better for all of us.
I’m not saying each of us has to jump to every alarm and bandage every wound. That way lies exhaustion. But we can’t shut it out either. When we make our decisions – as individuals or as a society – with an eye to those who need us and a determination to share the pain of others, something happens.
We start seeing people. Not strangers. Not others.
And in reaching for them, we reach to ourselves as well.
Don’t turn away from the falls. Let your heart be broken. See the hurt and respond to it.
That’s the real medal moment.