Well, to be honest, I don’t hate sports. It’s just that my body hates sports.
Don’t get the wrong impression: I can do lots of awesome things with my body, such as raise one eyebrow, touch my nose with my tongue and write with my toes. Yep, I am that talented. But before you ask for a toe-penned autograph, understand this sad fact: it would be easier to herd Palestinians and Israelis together for a cup of tea than to get me to catch a ball.
Fortunately, an auspicious call of fate summoned my family to Portland, OR, where spandex-clad men are more likely to be a bicyclists than football players. In this green utopia, hiking, biking and running are all revered as superior forms of athletic activity. Oh, you blessed hipsters who reject conventional, institutionalized sports! Thanks to you, even yoga has become an accepted recreational activity. My awkward limbs thank you.
But this was all before I attended the Special Olympics. That marvelous organization has forever transformed my outlook on traditional sports.
Particularly altered is my attitude toward baseball, which was previously #1 on my list of Easy & Patriotic Ways to Kill Oneself By Boredom. I understand it is practically treason to malign the iconic American sport, but watching plump men in tight clothing loll around … spit on the ground … stomp the ground … signal the catcher … position the feet … ready the ball … munch something gross in their cheeks … debate over what to do next … wind the bat … is enough mind-numbing tedium to slay even those with the fiercest desire to live.
But back to baseball, where I am barely clinging on to life. If by some miracle I manage to stay awake for the first few innings, I can entertain myself through the remainder by counting the number of new freckles I develop during the game, comparing the lengths of my fingernail cuticles or dreaming about how much more interesting it would be to listen to someone talk in depth about a TV show I’ve never watched.
Thankfully, only the pros are boring. Watch a Special Olympics game, and I guarantee your jaw will ache not from yawning, but with unfettered laughter & delight.
Smitten from the first moment, it was as if I had stepped into a different world. There, most everyone is hampered by a mental or physical impediment, yet simultaneously are free to be exactly who they are. Unfettered by the need to impress, they exist liberated from the tyrants of beauty, wit, intelligence and success that the rest of us bow to. How refreshing it was to escape the charade of typical adult interactions, where so many words are mere shadows of our true feelings!
This raw display of emotion makes for exceedingly entertaining games. While Special Olympic athletes hit more balls than the pros do, they still miss quite a few. One young fellow upon hitting a pitch, neglected to run to first base and instead began pumping his arms up and down in excitement, ran in circles, and gave his coach a huge hug. His joy simply could not wait!
And oh, the dance party. I’ve been clubbing, swing dancing, ballroom dancing – in different states, in luxurious venues, with a variety of handsome men (that sentence was intended to make my life sound cooler than it really is). This celebration outshone every single one of them. In an open field in the cool, summer twilight, a huge crowd of sweaty Special Olympics kids danced their hearts out. Not one of them (especially me) will ever make it on Dancing With the Stars, yet they all moved with such genuine joy and enthusiasm that I am convinced the very stars above us danced with delight.
What an honor it was to rejoice with ones so pure of heart! I left those games with a flame of joy as large as the Olympic torch shining brightly in my heart – it was if my soul had been hugged over and over again. With a myriad of mental and physical advantages, I was reminded by these ‘disabled’ ones that our value isn’t tied to skills or accomplishments, but to the very essence of our being. Every human is the temple of precious and worthy soul, whether they play in the regular Olympics, Special Olympics … or can do neither, like me.
I encourage you today to find someone who needs love, and give it wholeheartedly. It is far more rewarding than even hitting a home run … not that I would know 🙂