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Back in January I was laid out for a couple weeks by what I thought was bronchitis.  I didn’t do a damn thing during that time, and because of that, January was a wholly unproductive month when it comes to just about anything besides killing monsters on my computer.  Then I had a couple weeks where I was feeling okay and tried to get back to normal.  About the second weekend in February, it came back, and with a vengeance.  The doctor said it was “a touch” of pneumonia.  Two urgent care visits, two courses of antibiotics, two bottles of cough syrup with codeine and over three weeks later, I’m finally able to sit for a while without hacking my lungs up.  Stuff is still rattling around in my chest, but I’m not aching like I was and can actually go the whole day without changing my underwear because I coughed so hard I peed my pants.  Yeah, that’s a sexy picture, isn’t it?

During this second bout with the plague, I spent most of my time between cough syrup doses watching the Olympics.  I’m a big fan of both the winter and summer games, so much so that attending them both in person is on my bucket list.  And being able to watch the coverage all day, every day was a real treat.  This not having to go to an office and work thing has its perks.  But it didn’t take long for me to learn the down side of witnessing this grand spectacle of sports achievement.  One of the things the coverage does is give you the back stories of various athletes, their trials and triumphs in their journey to this ultimate pinnacle of the sports world.  Stories that often seem as if they had come right off a Hollywood writer’s desk:  the American men’s biathlon team winning medals in their events for the first time in the history of the games;  a short track speed skater who just six months ago had crashed and sliced his leg so badly he wasn’t expected to walk again, much less compete and ultimately win a medal;  a figure skater who’s mother died suddenly on Sunday, and by Thursday had won a Bronze.  Stories of heroism and perseverance unmatched by mortal men.

Stories that make fat, middle-aged writer-wanna-bes sitting at home tucked into a nap blanket with two cats, a box of Kleenex, and a bag of cough drops feel woefully inadequate.

They also made me open my eyes and really think about what I wanted and what was important to me.  Every Olympian, whether it be the sole member of the Ethiopian team merely hoping to finish, to the medal-winning juggernaut that is China, has a desire beyond what any of us who sit on the sidelines can imagine.  They all are champions in their own right, on their way to crown the champion of champions.  And they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.  Broken bones, torn ligaments, bruised bodies, food poisoning; all mere annoyances to these super-humans who laugh in the face of Death as they jump off perfectly good hills, careen down icy mountain slopes, or skate across thin ice as if the Devil himself were in pursuit.

And it made me realize that I had seen this kind of drive before, this single-minded focus on that one goal that will fulfill some deep need in each individual.  I’ve seen it in artists and musicians, actors, directors, teachers, parents, professional bowlers and even girl scouts.  We have all had moments of it, however fleeting they may be, when there was nothing to keep us from our goal.  But Olympic athletes are the purest embodiment of it,  living it every day, all day, unflinchingly.

I used to be that way with my writing and music.  I used to live, breath, eat, sleep writing or practicing.  Somewhere along the line, that drive has been diminished.  I got caught up in the world of safe choices and the expectations of a modern world that doesn’t understand what it means to dream.  I did the things that society told me would bring me happiness and prosperity, followed the lead of an unimaginative master into mediocrity, and barricaded that drive behind the locks and chains of fears and doubts and insecurities.  I made the biggest mistake anyone can make – I didn’t follow my own heart.

To paraphrase an old science fiction idiom, fear is the mind-killer.  Once you let it take hold, it will rot through even the strongest hopes, undermining every foundation you have built.  We mortal humans are very good at finding reasons to let the fear keep control.   At first blush you might think the difference between us and Olympians is that they don’t  feel fear, but that isn’t quite true.  While watching the ski jumping, the color announcer was describing all the technical things the athletes were doing to maintain themselves in the air for the longest possible jumps, while all the time their brain is screaming “Suicide!”   The fear is there, but those athletes don’t let it cripple them.  It is used as a motivation to keep doing better, a sign that they are still alive and challenging the world around them.  They live on that fine edge, pushing the envelopes, despite their fears, in defiance of fear.  They have chained the fear to serve them, and in so doing, have proven that any one of us can do the same in our given field of dreams.

Excuse me while I go break some locks and chains and see what it means to have that kind of power.

© 2010  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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