Monday, December 28, 2009

Old Flame (Part I)

Last night, I saw a very old flame. Excitement coursed through my veins. Seeing this flame took my breath away. I almost cried.

I was standing on the curb of my hometown, right beside the railway tracks that go through uptown and that's when this flame ran by me and sent a shiver down my spine right into my toes.

This was one torch that has been carried a long time and, ever since, all I keep thinking about is Vancouver.

This flame was first rekindled in 1928.

What? Yeah, I know. I wasn't alive then. (Or was I? Reincarnation is one neato idea.)

The flame was originally lit in 776 BC. We're talking one OLD flame. Some guy stole some fire from another guy. Kay, they weren't mortal or anything, but it's a symbol. Prometheus gifted the fire to humankind much to Zeus' chagrin and the first Olympic games in ancient Greece lit a flame to represent that achievement, in the heart of humankind and under its feet. To inspire us all to be chariots of fire. If they had couches back then, this was the original symbol to inspire people to get off it. Get active. Get Olympic!

Yes, last night, Sonshine and I witness history in the making. A piece of history and, simultaneously, a piece of the future. We watch the Olympic torch relay wind its way toward the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Before the torch runs through the streets of town, people line up to stand and have their photo taken holding it. Unfortunately, my crappo camera is acting up again (besides which, I'm newly hoping to get over holding another torch I'm now trying to extinguish). Plus, the lineup is considerably longer than the 500 metre dash. Consequently, I wheel my son's stroller up to the spot where photos are being taken. I am on my way to one sister's home because another sister has finally flown in from out East and last night is our official Christmas family get-together. Our immediate family (siblings, their spouses and children and my mother and father) total 25 people right now. It's no small celebration when we gather. And I am already running late because I want to see the torch. I am determined that my son see the torch.

I wheel him up to the photography booth and, quickly between shoots, I call out to the woman in the booth. I say, "I have a big family and we're holding our Christmas celebration tonight." I say, "My camera isn't working. I wonder if you'd let my son touch the torch? Just touch it?" She smiles at me. Her name, I learn is Katia. And the next thing I know, the Olympic relay torch is carefully thrust into my baby's stroller. I take his tiny hand and help him stroke it for a few seconds and quite a large lump forms in my throat. I have a camera on my cell phone that works, but I don't even bother to try to capture this moment in any other way. It is just too grand to record digitally.

We then hurry over to our spot as the streets are already lining with crowds to catch the torch make its way out West. There are people even on the roof of the parkade. The trees along King St. have had blue lights strung through them for weeks, but they seem to glow even brighter with the energy of the mass of people who gather beneath them. Only an hour before, I was complaining to a Starbucks barista that we hadn't had enough snow to my liking by the time Christmas rolled around. I am sitting indoors, sipping my latté, waiting for festivities to begin, when the snow starts to fall from the sky. The flakes are Olympic sized and my heart leaps to see them. I bundle my beautiful son up for the big event and we leave the warmth of lattés and leisure behind. We literally get up off the couch and race into the cold.

Today I learn that the idea to relay the Olympic torch on its way to the host city of the Games is credited to Carl Diem who introduced it for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. In 1902, at the ripe old age of 20, Diem is hired by the German Sports Authority for Athletics and, a year later, sits on its board of directors. Wikipedia further states that Diem "was an ardent believer in the heroic Olympian ideal, and in the contributions that international sport could make to harmony between nations". Berlin, as a result of Diem's hard work and dedication to sport, is named host city by the IOC two years before the Nazis take power. Diem is terrified when Hitler comes to reign that his dream of the Games in Berlin will be crushed. Hitler instead is convinced by Goebbels, his propaganda minister, to use the Games as an opportunity to flaunt and affirm Aryan superiority to the rest of the world.

Things don't go exactly as planned for old Adolf when Jesse Owens wins four gold medals. (Talk about a heroic Olympian ideal!)

Carl Diem is described as a devoted disciple of Baron Pierre de Courbetin, the founder of modern-day Olympics, begun (again) in Athens in 1896.

de Courbetin writes, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Wow. Amen.

Of the torch itself, he writes, "May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure."

Citius, Altius, Fortius
(Swifter, Higher, Stronger)

That's the Olympic motto, also penned by de Courbetin.

There is a hush for a moment and then a roar of cheering when the actual torch comes into sight. I push his stroller forward a bit and gasp. There it is. The Olympic flame!

After the torch lights up the irises of my son bundled in his buggy, we run, ourselves, back through King Street to our car to join my family celebration. I feel like a salmon struggling against a tide of people wanting to pull us in the opposite direction. My heart is singing. And I can tell I'm not the only one. Everyone who came to see the torch is smiling. To a man. They're giggling, laughing. They're giddy. I look at the light still glowing in my son's denim-coloured eyes.

The torch has lit something inside of everybody who witnessed its passing.

I think it's safe to say they are more enthusiastic.
More courageous, somehow.
That what their hearts carry this moment is somehow more pure.

Otherwise known as Olympic spirit.

It's catching! Grab some of it yourself if you can...

Music: Chariots of Fire theme, Vangelis


Brian Miller said...

that will be such a cool memory that you can remind your little one of one of these years...and you can share with him the quote...and let him in on one of the important secrets in life...great post. smiles.

Cabo said...

That is extremely cool. :)

Tricia Orchard said...

We were there too.

I loved it!


the b in subtle said...

yes, Brian. I'm tempted to say, "I can't wait." but the truth is, I really can. Time is flying too fast as it is.

It was, Mike. It was.

Tricia - I know! I wrote you a comment on your post about it the same night. Before I wrote my post. It was great, wasn't it?

Ciara said...

Wow! Now that's something. How exciting!

justsomethoughts... said...

beautfuk description
you passed the chills on, much like the torch.

Only A Girl said...


Marie said...

What a lovely memory. I told my kids about it, then totally forgot. Drag.