The Best of Us
By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
I have been waiting for the Olympics for months! For me, the anticipation began after the WV Region III High School Swim Meet took place back in February. I have been involved in the sport of swimming for years, loving swimming myself and then as a swim parent to three kids. As I posted on Facebook that day that I had officially timed my last swim meet, my brother Richard responded: “Come to Nebraska to visit me in June and we will go to the USA Olympic Swim Trials.
Back in February the trials seemed like a long way off, but, in June, when a continuing education event came up that made it possible to combine the event with driving on to visit my brother, my thoughts became, “Why not!”
I only attended one session, but that was enough! I never thought I would get that close to seeing Olympic athletes in person. The venue was filled with swimmers of all ages, inspired by these athletes and the love of a sport that can be a lifelong endeavor.
It is like this for me every two years, no matter if it is Summer or Winter Olympics. It brings me sheer joy to see athletes at their best, competing against the best in the world, in places that I will probably never see in person. The Games can bring out the best in all of us.
I sat with anticipation on Friday evening as the opening ceremonies took place. Rio offered to the world an opening ceremony that offered us an understanding of their history and culture and also a chance to reflect, again, on the damage we do to our planet by thinking of ourselves and not the generations to come.
Like many others in the world, I was inspired by the idea that one tree will be planted for every athlete at the Games. That is 11,000 trees that will grow and bring balance to the environment around the trees. What an amazing sight for these athletes to share with their children and grandchildren in years and decades to come.
The Parade of Nations was amazing to me. I loved seeing the athletes from all the different nations. The smiles and joy on their faces was inspiring. The many colors of the native clothes was bright and up lifting. My favorite was the uniform worn by Team Cambodia which happened to be my favorite color—royal purple! And, of course, there was a feeling of pride when the over 500 athletes of Team USA came into the arena.
However, the moment that has inspired me over and over again is the moment when Team Refugee entered the arena. If you have followed my writing over the last ten months or so, you know that I have a heart for those who are forced out of their homes for any reason, especially because of violence and war. The stories of what these athletes have had to sacrifice just to stay alive is heartbreaking to me, but for the Olympic committee to offer a place for these athletes to compete and a reason to train and live is inspiring to me.
This action, this opportunity for these athletes makes my heart “sing” with joy.
It is an example of the best of us.
I know that not everything at the Olympics goes as planned. I know that there are struggles and controversies. I know that there are huge disappointments and what appears to be unfair judgements. But for a few hours, the opening ceremonies shows the world, what is the best of us. For a few hours, we are all a part of one global village, cheering on athletes that will inspire us over a few days and will give us a glimpse of the best of the human spirit.
As I was thinking about the opening ceremonies I kept returning to what we call the “Golden Rule.” As a child, I learned it as this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt 7:12). Here, Jesus gives us a very basic notion on how to treat others. If you want people to appreciate you, then appreciate them. If you want people to help you when you are in a tight space, then help others when they are in a tight space. If you want people to accept you, no matter what, then accept them no matter what. If you want others to love you, then love others.
Jesus said very simply, in a way that we can remember it. The amazing, surprising thing is that Jesus did not set conditions. He just told us to do it. But we are so good at setting conditions for our actions. Every two years, summer or winter, we catch a glimpse of how to treat each other, as the athletes from around the world are all equal on the world stage, as they are filled with joy, and as they are just very glad that they are all there.
Last Sunday, I made a discovery about myself. I realized that I had made a conscious decision this summer. As I said it last week, I have made a choice to believe that even in the midst of this chaotic, violent, sometimes ugly world, there is still goodness, beauty, and love to be found. I realized that I have an image that represents what I am looking for—red geraniums.
Flowers have meanings; there is a whole language of flowers. Among other meanings, red geraniums convey elegance and calm and peace. It is also said that if you give someone a red geranium bloom it means that you expect to see that person again. It is a sign of friendship and deep feeling.
After I made that realization last Sunday, I realized that I do not see as many red geraniums as I expected to. Maybe God thinks that about us. Maybe God doesn’t see the best of us as much as God longs to. Maybe God longs for us to seek goodness, beauty, and love.
I look forward to watching as much of the Olympics as possible. I am looking for stories and events that bring forth the best of the human spirit. I am looking for goodness, beauty, and love. I hope you are as well.
To God alone be glory!