Why do we do what we do?


(Ian Charleson, playing Eric Liddell, leads the cast on the sands of St. Andrews)

Is it just me or does it seem that our news headlines have recently been inundated
with the stories about the struggles of our Nation’s younger athletic phenoms.

And in struggles I don’t mean physical ailments or injuries but rather
mental health struggles.

Earlier this year, twenty three year old tennis great Naomi Osaka
withdrew from playing in the Wimbledon Open due to anxiety, depression
and stress…

Isn’t that pretty much the life of training and competing for athletes?
Anxiety?
Stress?
Depression from the agony of defeat??

And then just yesterday, gymnastics superstar Simone Biles withdrew from
Olympic Competition due, also, to “mental health” issues.

Recently I watched several of the Olympic Gymnastic events and noticed that,
for the girl’s US team, there just wasn’t that usual spunk, no joie de vive.
The camaraderie and banter, along with the hugs and smiles, appeared to be
few and far between…
And yes I remember there’s a pandemic but this goes beyond that.

The familiar unity, the smiles, the group support did not seem as apparent
with this Olympic girl’s squad as it has in the past.
Not until Simone withdrew and an apparent invisible weight lifted from
her shoulders.

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve sensed more trepidation.
and heaviness then I have a typical competitive team energy.

Of course there should always be those serious game faces,
but there’s just not that emblematic team embrace as with teams prior.

Compare this year’s girl’s team to the men’s team.

This year’s men’s squad has seemed to be working as a cohesive unit of solidarity
despite working as individuals as well as a team unit….
but the girls…
well something has just seemed off with both team and individuals.

The aged stoic in me, who I might add has never ever competed at such
a level as an Olympian but who had always participated in team sports
while growing up say’s ‘suck it up buttercup, this is the Olympics’

Biles was at least seen laughing and cutting up after she “quit” and
thus the pressure was gone…or so it seemed.

And yet a more reflective part of me looks at what we as a society
do to our athletes by putting them up on platforms of worship.
Our expectations, the media’s obsession and the constant buzzing in the
ear and mind from all things Social Media are all heavy weights placed on kids
who push and push and push, year after year after year to be…the best of the best
at all costs.

Yet what of the competitive, the win at any cost athletes?
Think Tom Brady, Michael Phelps et el.

But costs for what???

So at first, I thought I wanted to write a post about things based on
snowflakes, coddeledness, spoiled, whining, golden calves…but rather…
something else popped into my head.

Growing up in the Episcopal Church the Hymn Jerusalem was and remains
a favorite of mine.
Hauntingly beautiful.
And yet despite it being a true English hymn and considered a quasi British National
Anthem…it moves my heart.

The hymn is based on a poem by William Blake and according to Wikipedia…

“And did those feet in ancient time” is a poem by William Blake
from the preface to his epic Milton:
A Poem in Two Books, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books.
The date of 1804 on the title page is probably when the plates were begun,
but the poem was printed c. 1808.[1]
Today it is best known as the hymn “Jerusalem”,
with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.
The famous orchestration was written by Sir Edward Elgar.

The poem was supposedly inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus,
accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant,
travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury
during his unknown years.
[2] Most scholars reject the historical authenticity of this story
out of hand, and according to British folklore scholar
A. W. Smith, “there was little reason to believe that an oral
tradition concerning a visit made by Jesus to Britain existed
before the early part
of the twentieth century”.[3]
The poem’s theme is linked to the Book of Revelation
(3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes
a New Jerusalem.
Churches in general, and the Church of England in particular,
have long used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven,
a place of universal love and peace.[a]

In the most common interpretation of the poem,
Blake implies that a visit by Jesus would briefly create heaven in England,
in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution.
Blake’s poem asks four questions rather than asserting the historical
truth of Christ’s visit.
Thus the poem merely wonders if there had been a divine visit,
when there was briefly heaven in England.[4][5]
The second verse is interpreted as an exhortation to create an ideal
society in England, whether or not there was a divine visit.[6][7]

So my mind drifted to one of my most favorite movies…Chariots of Fire.

The movie, the soundtrack…each became an integral part of me.
I went to showing after showing and I eventually bought the CD…
sans video cassette.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, the story…
is a true tale.

The movie came out in 1981 but the true tale reaches back to the early 20th century.

Again…here is what Wikipedia has to share about the plot…

In 1919, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) enters the University of Cambridge,
where he experiences anti-Semitism from the staff,
but enjoys participating in the Gilbert and Sullivan club.
He becomes the first person ever to complete the Trinity Great Court Run,
running around the college courtyard in the time it takes for the clock to strike 12,
and achieves an undefeated string of victories in various national
running competitions.
Although focused on his running, he falls in love with Sybil (Alice Krige),
a leading Gilbert and Sullivan soprano.

Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), born in China of Scottish missionary parents,
is in Scotland.
His devout sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell) disapproves of Liddell’s plans
to pursue competitive running, but Liddell sees running as a way
of glorifying God before returning to China to work as a missionary.

When they first race against each other, Liddell beats Abrahams.
Abrahams takes it poorly, but Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm),
a professional trainer whom he had approached earlier, offers to take him on
to improve his technique.
This attracts criticism from the Cambridge college masters
(John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson), who allege it is not gentlemanly
for an amateur to “play the tradesman” by employing a professional coach.
Abrahams dismisses this concern, interpreting it as cover for
anti-Semitic and class-based prejudice.

When Liddell accidentally misses a church prayer meeting because of his running,
his sister Jennie upbraids him and accuses him of no longer caring about God.
Eric tells her that though he intends to return eventually to the China mission,
he feels divinely inspired when running, and that not to run would be to
dishonour God, saying “I believe that God made me for a purpose.
But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

(bold is mine)

The two athletes, after years of training and racing, are accepted
to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
Also accepted are Abrahams’ Cambridge friends,
Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell),
and Henry Stallard (Daniel Gerroll).

While boarding the boat to France for the Olympics,
Liddell discovers the heats for his 100-metre race will be on a Sunday.
He refuses to run the race, despite strong pressure from the Prince of Wales
and the British Olympic Committee, because his Christian convictions
prevent him from running on the Lord’s Day.

A solution is found thanks to Liddell’s teammate Lindsay,
who, having already won a silver medal in the 400 metres hurdles,
offers to give his place in the 400-metre race on the following
Thursday to Liddell, who gratefully accepts.
Liddell’s religious convictions in the face of national athletic pride
make headlines around the world.

Liddell delivers a sermon at the Paris Church of Scotland that Sunday,
and quotes from Isaiah 40, ending with “But they that wait
upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Abrahams is badly beaten by the heavily favoured United States runners
in the 200 metre race. He knows his last chance for a medal will be the 100 metres.
He competes in the race, and wins. His coach Sam Mussabini,
who was barred from the stadium, is overcome that the years of dedication
and training have paid off with an Olympic gold medal.
Now Abrahams can get on with his life and reunite with his girlfriend Sybil,
whom he had neglected for the sake of running.

Before Liddell’s race, the American coach remarks dismissively to his
runners that Liddell has little chance of doing well in his now, far longer,
400 metre race. But one of the American runners, Jackson Scholz,
hands Liddell a note of support, quoting 1 Samuel 2:30
“He that honors Me I will honor”.
Liddell defeats the American favourites and wins the gold medal.

The British team returns home triumphant.
As the film ends, onscreen text explains that Abrahams married Sybil
and became the elder statesman of British athletics.
Liddell went on to missionary work in China.
All of Scotland mourned his death in 1945 in Japanese-occupied China.

And so as I reflect upon our young American athletes who are having a difficult
time with their various world stages, I remember Chariots of Fire.
A tale of two very different men competing for two very different reasons…
yet they compete because they knew they must.

One competes to honor God, the other competes to honor his people, his heritage.
Each man driven to and by honor of something so much greater than themselves.

I watched as the American Gymnasts, who had won silver, went over to
congratulate their Russian competitors who won Gold.

So why do we do what we do?

Joie de Vivre

In France we have a saying, ‘Joie de vivre,’ which actually doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.
Mireille Guiliano

One is born to be wild. . .

DSCN2627

One is born to be babied. . .

DSCN2659

The grand dog is born to adore. . .

DSC00972

The weather here has been the pits for a week now. Lots and lots of rain, fog, mist, grey and very warm, unseasonably hot, temperatures. Certainly far from a Christmas spirit sort of weather. As I see the map for this large country of ours, I see that much of this country is in the midsts of some sort of less than ideal weather. Snow, ice, rain, tremendous cold, muggy, tropical, windy—it all seems to be playing out at once.

In order to add a bit of a diversion, a bright spot as it were to some less than bright days, my thoughts turned to that which makes me happy, as I am certain, it, or rather they, make you happy as well. Who is that you ask? None other than our four legged friends whose sole / soul purpose in life seems to be laid back, full of joy, loving, happy, content, mischievous, playful—you name it, if it is on the positive side and happy, then it is them. And luckily for us, they oddly want to be a part of our less than joyful worlds.

Those of you who have pets most likely already know this, pets, as well as most animals in general, seem to possess that true joie de vivre—a true joy to life. They don’t seem to fret and wring their hands as we do, nor do they walk around with little black clouds over their heads. . . Well of course not Julie are you crazy, you argue. Animals don’t have the responsibilities, the demands, the worries such as we do. Well you’re right, our pets are free from much of what pulls us away from them.

They do possess, however something I wish more of us people possessed. . . and that is the unconditional love–which they, our pets, always extend to us.

They are the happy ones who greet us after a long day—other family members, not always so much. They are the ones who love us just after we throw up, are delirious with fever, have a broken or mended _________ (fill in the blank). They want to help with the new baby, the new couch, the new drapes, the new table, the new shoes, etc. They are the first ones to come offer comfort and console us just after the break up, the pink slip, the F, the ticket, the received new orders, the wreck, the death, the sorrow, the divorce, the remarriage, the first marriage, the fight, the argument, the slammed doors, the late nights, the lonely nights, the all nighters, the move, the loss. . .

They don’t care how our hair looks, our clothes look, our bank statement looks, our house / apartment looks. They don’t tell us we look too old, too tired, too sick, too ugly, too fat, too skinny. . . They don’t think the new tattoo was a stupid idea, nor the 5th piercing– they don’t question our judgement, our morals, (but maybe someone should), our intelligence, our religion, our friends. . .

They represent comfort, concern, support and hope. It is a proven fact that time spent with them helps to lower elevated blood pressure, deflate stress levels, and increase most energy levels. They are utilized in nursing homes, for shut-ins, for terminally ill patients, for very sick children, for those who have lost vision, hearing, limbs, mobility, for those who have been abused, molested, who suffer PTSD. They search for victims of earthquakes, natural disasters and man made disasters. They help search for those who are lost, for those with dementia for those with Alzheimer’s, for those who have runaway. . . the list goes on and on.

They may make mistakes, a mess, a big mess, a really big mess, a hole, a tear, a chewed up this or that, something swallowed that is never intended to be ingested—they may get wet, muddy, sticky, tangled—they may even draw blood or cause an occasional trip—they may get fleas, ticks, mange, skunked, gas, snake bit—they may fall in a hole, a well, a lake, a pond, a creek, a pit—they may get stuck up a tree, on the roof, in a car, in a box, in the gutter, in the toilet, in the closet, in the basement, in the attic—in many regards they are like small children–in many regards they are our children.

In many regards, there is much to be learned from them. And if anyone ever wants you to be happy, it is them, but it’s ok if you’re not, they’ll love you just the same.

Here is to all of our pets, the animals in our lives—those past and present and those yet to be—For me that is currently Peaches, Percy and the grand-dog, Alice.
An unconditional gift of love and acceptance.