I enjoy watching the Olympic trials – the precision, speed, agility, flexibility, endurance, and much more. At the end of each competition the gold medal winner as well as two runners-up are honored with the backdrop of the country’s national anthem The rest are losers.
Losers? Well, hardly. They also trained, strained, practiced, endured, journeyed to London, yet sometimes “lost” by a small fraction of a second. Still they are the so-called “losers.”
I think we need to honor losers more. They aren’t real losers in any sense of the word.
We live in a win/lose culture. It’s either/or. If a coach doesn’t produce a winning team, he or she is soon sidelined as the powers-that-be search for someone who will produce winners. The same happens to players. Similarly, in the entertainment, business or academic world it is important to stay on top. Politics is all about winning.
We are encouraged to stay on top, if not by brains, then by luck. Some people regularly buy lottery tickets when they get gas or groceries; it’s part of their budget. Others faithfully enter mail sweepstakes, rationalizing that the only investment is the cost of a stamp. And who knows, they might win a few million dollars and live a life of ease forever after. And forever after they will be considered a “winner.”
The other day in conversation friends implied I was a loser. Almost. As I left the church service, someone asked me, “Did you drive yourself to church?” The implication was that people my age didn’t drive. Earlier, during coffee time, someone asked if I was still writing. Again, the implication was that as a member of the older generation I was probably losing my faculties.
And I am, in some respects. I have diminishing eyesight. I have to admit it. I sometimes request people to repeat themselves, especially those people accustomed to doing business over the telephone mumbling the same words over and over again. Names of people I know very well suddenly slip into the black hole of forgetfulness to pop up about ten minutes later when I don’t need them.
Wrinkles are showing up in surprising places. Beauty is equated with young people with smooth skin, supple limbs, and a full head of hair. By implication the old are ugly and not as easy to look at. Old then becomes a four-letter word.
Physically, my strength is declining. I said good-bye to agility a long time ago. Gold winner swimmer Michael Phelps at 27 sees himself as possibly declining in physical prowess. Reporters are making a big deal about one female gymnast who is about 40. Olympic winners don't include those my age.
I lose friends more often because of death.
We of my generation may be losing in some respects, but we are winners in other areas. We are winners when it comes to experience and wisdom. We are winners in knowing what life is all about. We know much about dealing with loss and suffering, about hurt and forgiveness, about betrayal and faithfulness. We are winners in knowing that we can have faith without certitude or even clarity in every area.
Like the athletes we have gotten up before dawn many a morning to tend to a child’s need for comfort. We have stayed up late, very late, waiting for a child to come home. We have trained, strained, endured, fallen, picked ourselves up and moved on.
Yet these actions are not the ones awarded gold medals. Nor do we expect one. All we want is to not be relegated to the sidelines before we get there. That comes soon enough. The "old" winner is the one who chooses to live until the end. Encourage us to do that.