Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!
The title of one of the many books I read a book in grad school stayed with me over the years: “We Make the Road by Walking” because it so aptly describes the unfolding of a journey. A few weeks back, when I was first in Australia and getting used to driving on the left side of the road, I caught myself over and over again being tempted to say that “We are driving on the wrong side of the road.” Each time however, I would catch myself and say aloud, “Hey–we’re driving on the other side of the road” instead. I would then muse about how it easy it is to frame “different” as “wrong” and how seductive it is to stay within “secure” environs, situations where we know how things work or where we are comfortable.
Along the road, there are many intersections and our paths unfold depending on whether we turn right, left, go forward, pull a U-turn or park the car. In my presentations, I show a picture of a road sign in Tibet where my choices were to turn left and go towards a “loud ditch” or turn right towards the “Pearl Peak Supreme Headquarters.” I turned my bicycle right and a few kilometres down the road saw Mount Everest towering before me.
It was then that I knew I wanted to climb Everest. Standing at the North Everest basecamp the next day, I had someone take a picture of me so that I could remember that moment of deciding I wanted to climb Everest. At that point, I wasn’t worried about the climbing (though I probably should have been), I was worried about the fundraising because I had no idea how a shy, phone-phobic human being could possibly raise the $60,000 necessary to climb Mount Everest.
In 2008, along that same piece of road amid a mountain of controversy, the Olympic Torch was carried in the relay that would eventually take the flame to the summit of Mount Everest and onto Beijing for the Games. Yesterday, along High Street in Grand Falls-Windsor, I carried that same flame. Similar to a Buddhist lineage where teachings are transmitted from the Buddha through teachers to students, the Olympic Flame is passed from one Olympic Games to the next, from Athens to the next host location.
Canada is hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler. To carry the flame to the Games, they have organized the longest domestic torch relay in history. In 102 days, the Torch Relay will use 12,000 torchbearers to move the flame 45,000 kilometres. Last night, I was honoured and touched and moved to spend 300 metres with the Olympic Flame on my parent’s 45th wedding anniversary.
I was the first to receive the flame in Grand Falls-Windsor so the flame arrived in a small lantern. The Flame Keepers transferred the flame from the lantern and ignited my torch. My moment with the flame arrived. I raised the torch skyward and felt my spirit soar alongside the bold, crackling light. I had planned to walk with the torch but was encouraged by the entourage to run if I could. Listening to their instructions, I made Marian’s job as photographer tougher as she then, also had to run.
There is a red maple leaf on the torch indicates which way to hold it, “Closest to your heart,” our briefer had said. My heart beat faster and faster as I took those first tentative steps into the black night and then I gazed upward at the flame and began to run. I’m not sure if I ever really looked forward as to where I was going because I was so mesmerized by the flame. “I’m holding the Olympic Flame, I’m holding the Olympic Flame” kept coming into my mind following by “This flame has been to the summit of Mount Everest and I will follow it there.” I wanted to blaze the image of its bright hope on my mind, heart, and soul so that when mine dims along the road to and on Everest (as I know it will at times), I can draw courage, strength, and persistence from the thousands of athletes who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of excellence in their sport.
As I had been warned, my time with the flame was quickly over. I turned the corner onto Church Street and walked the last few feet to the next torchbearer. I stopped, glanced at the flame once more and then brought my torch down to ignite the next one. My torch was then turned off and I spotted Marian off to my right. I quickly went over and gave her a hug and then needed to jump aboard the shuttle bus. The other torchbearers welcomed me aboard enthusiastically and I enjoyed watching the rest of the torchbearer team complete their legs of the relay.
We drove up to the community celebration where the crowd cheered on Tony Kyritsis as he arrived with the flame to light the cauldron. As I made my way towards the stage to watch the festivities, I looked at the faces of many children as I walked by with the torch. They were awestruck, glowing really (as was I). They had, at that moment, been filled with the true spirit of the Olympic Games and to any child that seemed like he or she wanted it, I offered a chance to hold the torch. They then would remark on either how heavy or light it was and marvel at its design and their proud parents would come over and capture the moment.
I was sponsored as a torchbearer by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador so I met Minister Sullivan backstage during the celebration and shared some about what the experience was like to carry the torch. After the fireworks, Marian and I realized how chilled we were and headed to find some supper. I’m grateful to Marian for making the big road trip with me out to Grand Falls-Windsor to share in my Olympic experience… sharing it with her made it more fun and more meaningful to me.
Three weeks ago, two kilometres deep along a bush road in Australia, Marian and I shared a different experience. She had a bit of a health crisis that scared us both pretty deeply and tomorrow she’ll have surgery to prevent it from happening again. Marian is embarking on a mountainous journey of healing and I will be there every step along her road to recovery. I would ask that you keep us both in your thoughts and prayers tomorrow and over the next few months.
I had no idea when I decided, at that dusty intersection in Tibet, to turn right that I would attempt to climb Mount Everest, carry the Olympic Torch, or fall so deeply in love again. I’ve had to repeatedly leave pavement that is so comfortable and secure for the learning, growth, and love that lies just beyond sight around the bend on rutted and bumpy dirt roads.
Thanks for walking this road with me…what intersections are you at?