Friday Hodgepodge

Tears, people. And partial bafflement.

This morning a new post appeared on my reader from my friend Amy’s blog. On Fridays she tries to post a Special Needs Spotlight, but today she decided to feature a video about the beloved American gymnast who emancipated from her parents when she was 16, Dominique Moceanu. If you know Amy’s blog, you’ll have a deeper understanding of why she posted the video. It’s inspiring even outside of this context, but nonetheless, I’m grateful she shared this video:

Two books, by worthy prizewinners:

Yesterday I finished Blindness, by José Saramago. Toward the end of my commute to work I finished a particular heartbreaking scene and held back tears while making sure my fellow commuters didn’t see how distraught I was. On my commute home I read another scene that brought joyful tears to my eyes.

This morning I finished The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. She won the Newbery Medal in 2012. This book also made me cry, also because of sad and happy moments.

Excellent writing about important issues. Call to action and most definitely to contemplation.

I highly recommend both novels.

The other day I observed a conversation where one person said to the other,

I don’t know what your political leanings are, but there is one side that does whatever they want, and then there’s the other side with principles.

As I observed this conversation, I realized I was the other person, and the one person was talking to me. Approximately 67 trillion assumptions bounced around in my head, attracting and repelling each other until an image formed — like the kind with a magnet and iron shavings — of a big question mark. I didn’t say anything, because there were stray thoughts circling this question mark, trying to find a niche but also seeming to defy the magnetic force. In this defiance, these stray thoughts kept my brow from furrowing; they allowed me to have mercy on the one person’s soul. And if all I wanted to say was, “Huh?” I know that the one person’s “principles” would have tried to replace my metal shavings with shavings made of soap. Because the one person stands on a box of soap. Which is fine. I respect the one person’s opinion and I won’t treat the one person like less of a human being. This kind of understanding and regard is a principle the one person and I have in common. So we’re actually on the same side.

But we’re so, so not.

Huh?

I had the strangest dream with Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor last night. Part of it was on a tour bus or van, where we sat and I’d ask them questions. Part of it was watching them play volleyball. Not beach, but indoor. And part of it was at my childhood home in Middleburg. I mean, it started out with me and some friends (I don’t remember which ones) driving the van to the sports venue, and I didn’t know we were going to see Kerri and Misty. But one of my friends knew them and we ended up watching them play. I don’t remember if I got to play, but I feel like I did. There were tumblers there, too. Maybe I got to tumble instead. Then there was a lot of time between matches, so that’s when we all rode the van back to Middleburg. The volleyball courts were not in Middleburg, probably not even in Florida. Kerri and Misty were really cool, and they answered my questions about life on the circuit. I think we might have also passed my church along the way. They were so friendly and we ended up getting along very well. We were great friends by the end of my dream, which really wasn’t the end, just when I happened to wake up. Apparently, I still have Olympic fever.

If You’re Watching the Gold Medal Softball Game Right Now, Do NOT Read This

I came across some SPOILERS for the gold medal softball game. Of course I read them. And of course I couldn’t believe myself when I started crying, but that news was just heartbreaking. And while I was reading, Patty Griffin’s “Someone Else’s Tomorrow” played, and I was about to burst into sobs right there at my desk at work. I can’t even imagine. That’s some harsh irony, people.

“All the memories fade, send the ghosts on their way
Tell them they’ve had their day, it’s someone else’s tomorrow”

*****

Hey, Floridians. I hope the rain lets up. Fay ain’t playin’, I say. I am May. Sun shine on your day. Somehow, some way. Would anyone like some crudite?

Natalie du Toit

“…every single emotion is important, and you have to go through it. On the same token you have to be grateful for what you have. Yeah, you have to be as positive as possible.”

She represents South Africa. She competed in the open water swim – 6.2 miles. 10K. It’s a new event. She placed 16th out of the 25 Olympians who qualified. Who swims 6.2 miles? Who spends two hours of swimming nonstop? At the Olympics? As the very first amputee athlete?

Look her up. She’s cool.

This is not a perfect metaphor.

The new gymnastics scoring system consists of two parts: the “Start Value,” which indicates a routine’s difficulty. From what I’ve seen, anything from the mid 6s to low 7s is pretty hard and warrants an overall higher score; then Execution is how well the routine was performed. This is based on a 10-point scale, similar to the old system. Add these subscores for a total score to determine ranking for the event.

What I appreciate about the new system is that extends beyond the notion of the “Perfect 10.” 10 was absolute, but 10 did not elaborate on itself. If you received one, your performance was perfect; if you didn’t receive one something was obviously wrong with your presentation. Flawed.

The other day during my air balance beam practice, I decided to try a dismount off the ottoman. I perched about twelve inches above the ground. I pointed my right toe down in front of me, took a step, and then I sprung off the end of the ottoman and followed my leap to the floor. No somersaults, no twists; just pointed toes which turned to strongly planted feet and an extended body. I stuck the landing! No balance checks, just a big smile. Perfect 10, right?

The old system would want to deduct everything from my routine, but it has no choice but to roll its eyes in a smugly objective way. I performed that landing perfectly.

The new system would mock me. It would assign the routine a start value of negative 6 trillion, give me a “perfect” score of -5,999,999,999,990 then pat my head ever so condescendingly and send me on my way.

(New system, would you please not pat my head? I’m a whole inch taller than Shawn Johnson. I’m also TWICE HER AGE. Thanks.)

The new system, however, allows for more accountability. You’re in charge of your performance. A more difficult routine increases the chances of receiving a higher score. Difficulty involves more spins and twists and quickness between those elements. Connectivity and continuity are key. Then if you can make the routine look beautiful with flowing lines, exceptional, balletic extension and no bobbles and falls, that further improves your score.

The new system rewards what kind of gymnast you are; the old system did not make that distinction. The new system encourages creativity and fine-tuning. The new system nurtures the thinking gymnast; it stirs desire and does not emphasize absolute perfection. Just do your best, and get better.

So far in Olympics gymnastics, I’ve seen ambition and grace in different combinations. The gymnasts fared in varying degrees, from truly disappointing to unbelievably successful. In the women’s balance beam finals, Shawn Johnson had power, precision and pluck. Nastia Liukin had elegance, emotion and enigma. Each was captivating in her own way. Though Nastia scored higher in execution, Shawn’s higher start value gave her the win.

They understood the system. They gave their best and hoped for a higher score.

This year in seminary we’ll be studying the New Testament. Last year as we studied the Old Testament we discussed the many stories that foretold the Messiah or were a type of Christ. Moses carved a staff for his snakebitten people to simply look upon and be healed. Esther intervened to save the Jews from destruction.

We got a hefty dose of the Law of Moses and a deeper look at its purpose. This law was to prepare the Israelites for their promised land and how to live once they got there.

The God of the Old Testament always seemed so harsh and merciless. Many stories ended with someone or a lot of people being struck dead. On the spot. With little or no explanation. The only way I can reconcile this in my finite mind is to remind myself how stubborn the Israelites were. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, not because they were so far away from their destination geographically, but because their hearts were so distant from the Lord.

This continued to be the case, and God showed his wrath in extreme ways throughout the Old Testament. Donkeys talked to people. Walls crumbled. Armies of thousands collapsed, dead. One has to wonder if these events would have happened if the people had listened to God the first time and wanted to obey him.

The strongest lesson I took from studying the Old Testament is that the Lord knows our hearts. He smote and he blessed according to people’s hearts, but he did it because it was his will to do it. It plays into the big picture, the grand scheme, the eternal plan.

The New Testament offers Christ himself as a character. He is born; he lives in a community, amongst rich and diverse cultures. There is no “type” or foreshadow. He is the symbol, living and breathing. All the journeys, wars, plights, and strict enforcement of the Law of Moses during the previous 5,000 years have come to a climax. Christ, because he can, sets aside the Law of Moses and introduces the Higher Law.

Christ teaches that precisely obeying the hundreds of rules of the Law of Moses does not prove one’s perfection as a person. Christ teaches that if you’ve coveted something of your neighbor’s, you’ve already stolen it. If you’ve lusted after someone, you’ve already committed immorality. He also teaches that while you weren’t specifically commanded to help a mother with her stroller down the stairs to the subway platform, if you don’t offer to help her, you might as well have pushed her down the stairs.

This Higher Law requires a heightened awareness. It involves a bigger spiritual effort. It demands humility to ask for the capacity of heart to become a better person. It not only demonstrates the Lord knowing our hearts, but it necessitates that we have to own up to what’s in them, regardless of whether it leads to perceptible behavior. Life’s start value can and does get harder. How do we execute? The Higher Law really gets down to the type of people we are.

The Higher Law redefines perfection beyond the minutiae of the Law of Moses. We are not ranked against each other, but judged as individuals according to the law, which our hearts have hopefully clung to. We cannot settle for a “Perfect 10” but must continually strive for an elevated score, for improvement, for as close to perfect as we can possibly get, a score we cannot possibly comprehend. Because, if we can progress perfectly – if we can give our best with all our hearts – that might be the ticket to a gold medal.

Love-Hate Olympics

I adore the USA women gymnasts. I love how Nastia and Shawn are friends.

I hate how much I have to avoid the internet during the day to stay away from Olympics spoilers.

I caught some synchronized swimming last night. And some table tennis. That ping-pong is incredible.

And trampoline is dang cool.

Misty and Kerri totally rock. One match away from a gold medal.

Believe it or not, I like the new gymnastics scoring system. I don’t like that there can’t be a tie if competitors have the same score.

I like water polo.

The American men’s basketball team is obnoxious.

Women’s softball. Dude. They’re getting rid of it for the next Olympics. Because of the American domination? Wouldn’t you have to get rid of diving by the Chinese token?

Liu Xiang’s situation with the 100M hurdles makes me sad. His coach broke into sobs at a press conference. I can’t remember the article I read, but it stated that the United States pushes patriotism because it sells; China is patriotic because it’s the law. I know I’m snide about the media coverage and the age issue and absolute government control, but I can’t imagine living under such an oppressive thumb.

Still, China has beautiful countryside, and I would like to visit someday.

I haven’t made up my mind about field hockey.

Because I cannot take my eyes off primetime television, I’ve developed some excellent imitation skills:

I’m an excellent air balance beam athlete.

I do a mean air freestroke.

I have an unexplainable urge to take up diving.

And anything synchronized. Go here for an explanation. Also keep in mind Becky is 6 feet tall.

And beach volleyball: I wanna play. I couldn’t spike without a springboard, but I’d set and bump and dig just fine.

I’d also not wear a teeny bikini.

Little Bits of Olympics

Does anyone else notice that Michael Phelps doesn’t put his hand directly over his heart during the national anthem?  I mean, unless his heart is somewhere between his pancreas and left pectoral. I always understood it to be somewhat close to the middle. That heart of his does pump 80 gallons of blood per minute, so who am I to say how big that man’s heart is.

That Bela Karolyi is a funny man.

I want to see more of the obscure sports. Why haven’t I seen more table tennis? Or archery? Or shooting? And I remember seeing more synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics back in the day.

I did catch a good bit of softball. That fast-pitch stuff rocks.

Bob Costas, nothing against you as a human being, but as hard as I try to appreciate your style of journalism, I can’t. Shawn and Nastia handled your odd questions well; Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz did what they could, too.

How about that fingernail finish, eh?

How about that Ara Abrahamian getting his bronze medal yanked? I mean, I agree with Arly: you’re at the Olympics. Well, if you don’t want it, they’re not going to force you to keep it. What a way to represent your country, dude. What a way to be grateful you’re at the largest arena in the world with the most phenomenal athletes in history.

What about that “spectacular display of sportsmanship” by Dara Torres? Why, media? Why must you inflate things to ridiculous proportions? I guess I can thank you for praising kindness, but with very few exceptions (see previous paragraph), no one has been out of line at these Olympics.

Martha Karolyi, I’m trying not to glare at you. Time and a place, ma’am. Your team behaved more graciously than you did.

I like observing the mutual respect between the athletes. When I was running and cycling more diligently and saw other runners and cyclers, I felt a connection to them. It was nowhere near the bond these Olympic athletes have; their emotional, psychological and physical investment is far greater. It’s really something to behold.

It’s great how the Olympics bring the whole world together. This year, it happens to be under communist rule, but at least I can’t say I’m not learning from it.

At least I can still see people living out their biggest dreams. At least I believe the size of the athletes’ hearts outweigh or overshadow the political incongruity for a couple of weeks. And it’s okay if your heart is behind your well-conditioned left pectoral muscle. I guess I’d put my hand there, too.