Civilization has always required inspiration, and has gotten it through religion, patriotism, mythology, the arts, threats from government or parents or other bullies, television commercials that promise fulfillment of a wealth of desires, and a myriad of other sources. But it boils down to a look, an encouraging promise of a better way to get through life.
The Summer Olympics has positioned itself thusly, a 17-day orgy of sport and architecture with, via technology, a global reach, and the germ of an idea of world harmony; a vision that we old-timers are handing the earth off to a generation prepared to receive it.
Either buy into it or don’t, but this billion-dollar extravaganza tends to leave me optimistic, not because it gives me an up-close-and-personal look at sports like synchronized diving and rhythmic gymnastics (I remain respectful of these endeavors, but prefer baseball), but because it is a heavily stylized look at the future, and it’s a future I like. The world boards airplanes, congregates in a place reserved for excellence (this time it’s in London), then leaves, presumably refreshed and inspired. Those that don’t get to watch it either “streamed” or “on air.” Cool world.
If you follow this stuff you have your own Olympic Moments, those flashes of action that briefly remind you that you live on a great planet, like the ritual wherein the mayor of a just-concluded Olympics hands a ceremonial flag to the mayor of the next place to get it. In 2006, the mayor of Milano presented one to the mayor of Vancouver, and that the Canadian was a paraplegic, a gentleman in a wheelchair, was no hindrance to the custom.
So you sat there watching, in Kenmore or Asia or Africa, and noted that a man with no mobility in his arms or legs (it was a skiing accident which put him in that position), rolling around the stage in a motorized wheelchair with the flag billowing behind him, could still be a city mayor, mayor of the kind of place that could hook the Olympics. This sort of thing can have an effect on you, if you’re lucky.
It struck me, this go-round, that everyone at the Olympics is good-looking. Young, athletic in their own way (gymnasts and weightlifters and basketball players, body types galore). Watch the opening walk, wherein the thousands of athletes march into the stadium in ceremonial uniforms of one sort or another (native costumes, high-end track suits or, in the case of the Ralph Lauren-dressed Americans, looking like the crew of Mitt Romney’s yacht), and you observe you’re evidently on a planet where men and women receive equal respect, that Djibouti and Sweden and China each have advantages. That you’re not looking at Disney characters, you’re looking at real people, ready to do astounding things and look good doing them.
I am not young, nor athletic nor good-looking. I’ve been to London, several times, but not to represent my country or demonstrate any athletic prowess (I over-wined at lunch once while there, then stepped off a double-decker bus and landed on my butt in the street, but that’s not the same thing). But I watched that opening ceremony last weekend and marveled at what they call the “parade of nations.” Oh, I’ll roar for the American competitors this week and next, and hope my country whips the Chinese in the medal count, but when the best in the world gathers for something other than a war, I’m enthusiastically all for it.
I’m long past the attitude that, whatever’s going on at the apex of an endeavor, I should be there. The Nobel Prize committee or the New York Yankees aren’t calling me. Ferrari does not want me to drive in the Grand Prix of Monaco. (Oh, the Republican Party sends me mail, but it’s not my insight it seeks.) For a few more months or years, I’m a citizen of the U.S.A. and of Earth, and my place in it, among other things, is to appreciate the young and the talented.
So, the Olympics. They were thrilled to be there, those athletes marching in, and it showed. High definition or standard definition, I watched it and felt all that joy radiated back to me. Young, strong and good-looking is a fine way to go through life, I concluded, and it pleased me to remember technology has gotten to the point where I had a share of it. I was on a couch in Kenmore at the time, but I shared it.
I chose the right planet to live on.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.