“I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” — Bethany Hamilton
My favorite workout tank has this quote on the back. It’s my favorite tank for a bunch of reasons (including that it was a shirt made in support of a friend with cancer), but I love that saying. Because I’m not looking for easy, I’m just looking for possible.
And that’s what I found myself thinking about when I was watching the Olympics. I almost forgot that they were on. You know how it is. Work and kids and barbells and Facebook and Instagram fill your radar until you forget that there are other lights blinking on the edges of your screen. Luckily for me, my elderly neighbor didn’t forget.
“Come in! Come visit me! The Olympics are on!” Ricki called from her door, furiously waving one arm as I returned from the coffee shop on another clear and beautiful morning in California.
If you’ve ever had a kind, funny neighbor with a sweet Southern accent, then you already know Ricki. She’s got a ready smile and a gigantic heart: the sort of person whom it seems you can never have enough of in your life. When that door opens and you see the lady with the white hair and the white pants waving at you, you drop everything and go on in and sit for a bit.
“Look at them go!”
She had televisions turned on in two rooms in her place, just so she wouldn’t miss anything. Women were racing on a straightaway on their bicycles, and Ricki was cheering them on, not sure exactly of all the intricacies of what they were doing but excited to watch them do it.
As we watched, I explained some of the race strategy and the rules of the peloton and the technical aspects of cycling. Ricki ate it up and wanted to know more. What was really cool, however, was that she loved watching the Olympics whether she knew the fine points of what the athletes were doing or not. She just wanted to watch the sport of it all. She marveled at the art of the possible, at what human beings could do in the physical realm.
It didn’t matter to Ricki that she’s close to 80 and will most likely never ride a sleek carbon-fiber bicycle down a slick road in Rio. (We missed the crash of Annemiek van Vleuten, but that was scary to watch later.) It didn’t matter that Ricki would never stand on a 10-meter platform and dive into a pool at the Olympics while barely making a splash. So she’s not going to play beach volleyball in front of a big crowd. So what. All that mattered to her was that other people were capable of that riding and that diving and a thousand other things and that she got to watch and marvel at it all.
In our busy, divided world, we sometimes forget to slow down and appreciate the spectacle of some of what unites us as humans: this motion, this drive, this heart. We get too focused on seeing our inadequacies or what we think we can’t do, and forget to appreciate all that we can do.
So it helps to look at what amazing athletes can do and remember the art of the possible. Remember what can be accomplished with work and practice and years of struggle and maybe good genetics and amazing dedication to nutrition. The realm of the possible. It’s exciting to see that, to ponder that, to marvel at that. (Oh life, you give us presents, may we be wise enough to see and appreciate them.)
Sure, I’m never going to stand on a platform and snatch 106 kilograms (234 pounds). But Jenny Arthur can.
I’m never going to stand on a platform and clean and jerk 209 kilograms (461 pounds). But Kendrick Farris can.
And I’m never going to be five amazing American gymnasts and win a gold medal for the USA. I can barely do a forward roll. But I can watch and cheer and wonder as the art of the possible unfolds before me. And so can Ricki. That’s pretty cool.
After a while, I left Ricki to her TVs on that Sunday, and instead pulled on my cycling bib and shirt, put on my funny Italian shoes, and clipped myself into the pedals of my carbon-fiber bike. As I grunted and huffed my way through hills full of gorgeous redwoods in Northern California, I was nowhere near the speed or the skill of those gals on those streets in Rio … but I didn’t have to be.
Because I didn’t need easy. I just needed possible.