Monday, March 1, 2010

O Canada! (And Her Kids)

Lindsey Vonn
I've got to hand it to the Canadians, they did a tremendous job with the Olympics. The visual effect of the opening ceremonies was uniquely beautiful and the closing ceremonies struck me as their way of saying goodbye -- oh, and don't forget to write. From start to finish, they magically transformed two weeks of international competition into something that almost resembled a gigantic family outing. Maybe it's because of the kind of people they are and then again, maybe we're entering a new era and they simply had the good fortune to be in a position lead the way.

In Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Capt. Jean-Luc Picard says, "In my time we work to better ourselves." It almost seemed that way in Vancouver. Seriously, I can't recall an Olympics where more emphasis was placed on the idea of a personal best. And not merely in the cases of those athletes who weren't medal contenders. With few exceptions, I got the overall sense these Games, win or lose, were about achievement for its own sake.

That this could even have been possible, stems from the nature of the athletic field and those who populate it. For the most part, these are persons born into a post-Cold War world. They have no personal memory of "games instead of guns." Furthermore, theirs is a generation, as I've said before, joined at the hip. Cell phones, group dating, and social networking sites are the stuff of daily life. The rugged individualism of the early to mid-20th century isn't an integral part of their thinking or lifestyle.

As a consequence, a relationship such as that between Lindsey Vonn and Maria Riesch is free to develop. Best friends, they spend Christmases together and yet, on the slopes, they are determined competitors. J. R. Celski is close friends with a skater from another team as well. The mistrust inherent in a purely competitive environment is being overcome by individuals who capable of looking past the flag on a sleeve.

We talk about eliminating boundaries and integrating the spirit of the Games into international relations but I don't think that's really been attainable until now. In a real sense, we've needed a generation that can conceptualize relating on multiple levels and is accustomed to bracketing differences for the sake of something greater. It is, perhaps, the unexpected legacy of the Woodstock Generation that their children don't merely give lip service to diversity and are willing to try bringing opposing thoughts together to consider both at once.

Canada may come to be seen as having been the ideal venue for the 2010 Olympics, despite the snow. The value she has set upon her First Nations peoples suggests a willingness to embrace and celebrate diverse beginnings and ways of being. It's a lesson we've talked about again and again but rarely laid hold of. God willing, fifty years hence, we'll look back and say to ourselves, Vancouver is where it all began to change.

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