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At the Beginning Was Loss: Musings on the Olympics (part one)

It began before it began.  The twins were climbing out of the bathtub, scrubbed and ready to watch the opening ceremony for the winter Olympics and I knew I had to explain it now, when things were quiet, rather than when the words were spoken before the ceremony.  Because you knew the words were going to be spoken before the ceremony.

“You might hear tonight that a boy died during practice today.  He was doing the luge and he fell off and hit his head and the doctor couldn’t fix him.”

They froze as if I had just told them that I was going to be giving away all their toys.  “Was he doing bad listening?’ the ChickieNob finally asked.

“No.  He was doing everything right, but sometimes accidents happen.”

“Is everyone sad?  Are his mommy and daddy sad?”

“His mommy and daddy are heartbroken.”

The Wolvog curled into my lap in his little towel and we talked about how sometimes people take risks because they’re good risks to take, and how his friends might be so sad that they can’t do the luge when it was originally scheduled, and how they may hear a lot about it when we were watching the Olympics that night.

Because honestly, how could I shield them from it when there was the chance it would be woven into every moment of the games?  I’m glad we talked about it in the quiet moments after the bath, rather than throw this reality at them with the television blaring in the background.  And so their little worlds grew again.


I cried on-and-off through the opening ceremony, thinking about Nodar Kumaritashvili’s parents.  The Proctor and Gamble commercial reminding us these athletes will always be children to their parents didn’t help.  Out of respect for the family, we didn’t watch the continuous coverage of the crash, switching instead to the Food Network and Guy Fieri’s ebullient voice telling us about diners! drive-ins! and dives!.

Josh asked in regard to my crying how the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili was more tragic than the lives lost in Alabama earlier that day–and it wasn’t.  One loss doesn’t trump the other; it isn’t more tragic to lose your life at one job over another.  But there were different triggers bringing out the catharsis, the general public’s agony at watching our worst nightmares come true in two separate places.  I think the average person watching at home, who has no personal connection to Kumaritashvili wasn’t crying just for the fact that a person lost their life.  It is the idea that life is so fragile that you could work your way up to the top–to the pinnacle of success–and while on that mountain, could die before even planting your flag; making your mark.

I mourned the loss in the same way that I cried when the wedding hall collapsed in Jerusalem, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds.  Because it was a reminder that nowhere in life is completely safe; that we’re not in a giant game of tag where you can catch your breath on home base, knowing you can’t be tagged out while you hold onto the pole.  It is sobering to think that there are no reprises even during the happiness moments of life.  That you can be tagged out at any time–a wedding hall, a university office, a luge track.


Deb told me a great story this week about ski jumpers: “When a skier begins in their training, the coaches hand him/her a small bag filled with marbles.  Each successful jump, the skier hands one back to the coaches.  The goal of the training is to get each one to the point that they completely lost their marbles -and become a ski jumper.”

It seems fitting for a lot of places in life where you must be crazy enough to lose your marbles to take that leap of faith that you not only will live to tell, but be a better person after taking the risk and completing the act.  Maybe that’s why I love to watch the Olympics.  Because while I may not have the guts to take these same risks, it is wonderful to watch others who have taken that deep breath and dedicated their entire lives for this chance.

We are witnesses not just to the bravery of someone willing to hurtle down an ice course at 90 miles per hour or sail through the air on a pair of skis, but the bravery of people following their dreams–of giving up so many other paths in order to take this one that brought them to the Olympics.  For every person on the screen are thousands of others who wanted it just as badly, who trained hard and gave up other paths too, and didn’t make it for whatever reason.  It is the bitter and the sweet–which why I also think those going through infertility are both drawn to and hurt by the sight and stories of women pregnant after infertility.  We all train hard in the emotional sense, and we are both proud of our fellow Iffers for making it to the parenting Olympics and also hurt watching life’s opening ceremonies when we’re not there and we wanted it just as badly.


Maybe it’s the snow that has made me start writing in these small bursts, dividing up the day into themes.  The start of the Olympics was definitely about loss, but then again, it always is if you look at it from a certain angle.  As amazing as it is to watch a convocation of people all in the prime of their athletic prowess, so much was lost on the way to the podium as well as so much gained.  Perhaps, over time–like so many other places in life–if you get a chance to reach the Olympics, you don’t mind what was lost along the way.  The tears or missed opportunities are simply the cost for the chance of standing up there, your national anthem playing, your flag waving above you, and a medal around your neck.


1 toesneedsand { 02.13.10 at 10:12 pm }

Thank you for this post. I too have cried over this Olympians death. As I sit here tonight watching the beginning of the luge competition, I am sad. Also, I’m pissed that TODAY and only after Nodar Kumaritashvili’s tragic passing have they made modifications. This is one case where being proactive would have saved a life. It mattered. He mattered. I’m saddened that his teammate has withdrawn although I cannot say that I blame him. I feel for him, the Georgian team, family of the fallen athlete, etc. Finally and no doubt after catching hell about the playing, replaying and sensationalizing something so horrible, NBC has elected to stop playing the video. About damn time. What is wrong with people anyway? Sorry for my post. It’s just reassuring to know that people like you and I still exist in this world.

2 FireMom { 02.13.10 at 10:25 pm }

It’s no secret that I’m overly-emotional as of late but, yes, I cried. I was pleased, however, when Bob Costas announced tonight that NBC will no longer be showing the crash. Then, of course, I cried when Kumaritashvili’s father talked about the coverage and how he wouldn’t watch it.

Beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.

3 Rebecca { 02.13.10 at 10:49 pm }

Beautiful post, it was so touching to read how you introduced this story to your children. It’s wonderful you help them to see that death is a part of life & how to cope with it, as a previous hospice social worker I can’t tell you how important that is & sadly how many parents try to shield their children from it. You handled it in a beautiful & realistic way.

4 S.I.F. { 02.13.10 at 11:21 pm }

I was mortified at the coverage of the actual accident. I just couldn’t believe any station thought showing that over and over again was a good idea. It reminded me of the girl who died in a drunk driving accident years ago. The cops circulated a picture of her decapitated body as a warning not to drink and drive (without the permission of the parents) and it ended up all over the internet. To this day the family is still trying to have that picture erased from random websites all over the place; they are pretty concerned it’s a never ending battle because as soon as they get an injunction to have it removed one place, it crops up on 10 more.

That’s what this made me think of. Why on earth should that family be bombarded with the images of his last seconds like that for the rest of their lives (because you know it will always be accessable from here on out).

5 Tio { 02.14.10 at 1:42 am }

This is one of the best things I have read. Truly. You managed to describe exactly how I feel about the Olympics, about infertility, about loss and death, about loss and success. About life, really. And the amazing thing is, I didn’t even know I felt this way until I rad your words.
I feel both sad for, and proud of, all of us who have made sacrifices in the hopes of achieving a dream. Some of us have planted that flag on the mountain top, and some of us have not, but that doesn’t make the sacrifice any less worthy.
Thank you.

6 coffeegrl { 02.14.10 at 3:38 am }

I’m not an athlete. I don’t care much for competition in general and so I sometimes have a hard time relating to events like the Olympics. I mean, I love to watch them, but I can’t imagine dedicating my life to a sport. And yet. There is something so bittersweet and wonderful about pursuing your dream even if you don’t attain it. My high school physics teacher was a finalist in the lottery to be the teacher sent into space on the space shuttle Challenger (ultimately of course Christa McAuliffe was chosen). After the terrible tragedy of the Challenger we asked him “Aren’t you glad you weren’t picked?!” He was an older gentleman, perhaps in his 60’s and this was his outlook on life and his answer, “There are worse things I can imagine than to die while pursuing your dream.” That notion has *always* stuck with me.

7 Bea { 02.14.10 at 6:51 am }

Beautiful post, Mel. I think what you say about the losses not mattering is true for many. I hope it can be true for all.


8 Heather { 02.14.10 at 7:15 am }

I keep thinking of his parents. To lose a child. Then to see his death replayed over and over. The cruelty. He was so young. Life isn’t fair.

9 tash { 02.14.10 at 7:37 am }

I heard, in insanely gory detail, about the crash on NPR Friday evening (TV blessedly off). I could not believe they were showing the video footage — how must the parents feel about that? Is it ok simply because he’s an athlete and in a sense, “did it to himself?” I told Bella the next day when I turned on the tv to watch because I told her outright we were going to change the channel if they showed it because I did not want to watch it. She concurred.

I’m a bit mystified at their conclusion: He went into the last turn poorly? Shouldn’t that cost you a medal — and not your life?

And the thing in Alabama is just gutting me as well. That is truly ugly. Sad weekend all around.

10 Becky { 02.14.10 at 8:53 am }

Thank you. You’ve managed to put into words so many of my feelings. Beautifully written.

11 queenie { 02.14.10 at 10:08 am }

I know this isn’t exactly your point, butI’ve been thinking a lot about the cost of things. I used to think that if you worked hard and did what you were supposed to, you got rewarded and your life was good. How naïve I was!

I’ve since come to realize that every achievement, every jorney also has a cost that must be recognized. For me, I’ve had to start to contemplate whether certain successes are worth the personal costs. It’s definitely bringing a new dimension to my decisionmaking.

12 Sue { 02.14.10 at 11:47 am }

Your post about the Olympics is lovely. I was also heartbroken over this loss. Thank goodness I haven’t seen any of the TV coverage – I couldn’t bear it.

13 Alex B. { 02.14.10 at 2:48 pm }

Lovely post, Mel. Speaks powerfully to the sense we all have that there are certain things that just *shouldn’t* lead to death, and how destabilizing it is to be reminded that just about anything can.


14 luna { 02.14.10 at 2:52 pm }

what an excellent post. love the analogy to infertility too, of course. brilliant.

15 Deathstar { 02.14.10 at 4:25 pm }

We were watching the opening ceremonies at my friend’s place, and when they got to the minute of silence, I really felt it the loss of this athlete. The Olympics is such an exciting thing for most of us in Vancouver and to have it begin in such a heartbreaking manner – sigh. They played his practice run on the news later that night – I watched him hit a metal post – I sobbed. I had no idea they actually captured his moment of death. You forget that sometimes that you can hurtle through life as such terrific speed, and then be gone in an instant at any time. Life is so precious.

16 Calliope { 02.14.10 at 11:45 pm }

my rabbit ears are failing me when it comes to NBC so I only made it to Greece in the parade of athletes. But I still got chocked up thinking about a dream dashed. So tragic.

17 Jen { 02.15.10 at 12:25 am }

I actually was at work Friday night when I first saw the story on the computer at work. Of course, like a dummy, I watched the video of the crash only to cry. I thought about that boy (I say that half heartedly as I’m only 8 years older than he) and his poor parents. I imagine that if they weren’t at the games (maybe they were), they were home and got a call completely opposite of what they were hoping to hear. How awful. He was so young. And you are right, his death isn’t any more tragic than anyone else’s. It’s a hard thing to explain to your children. My son is just 3, and he asks questions of me about my work. I am a NICU nurse, and today he asked me if my babies at work cry. I told him that sometimes they do. Of course, he wanted to know if it was because they hurt. How the hell do you answer that?!?! I told him that sometimes they are so sick that it hurts, and that can make them cry, but sometimes they cry because they are hungry or want to be held, or need their diaper changed too. He seemed satisfied with that response, but he’s asked me this question multiple times this week so I think it bothers him. We haven’t watched any of the olympic coverage, we’ve just been busy, but I imagine he’d have a question about that too. I think you did a great job answering their questions! Let’s hope they take the video of the accident off of the internet and the tv, and let that family, team, and supporters mourn in peace.

18 Katie { 02.15.10 at 9:49 am }

Beautiful post, Mel. I couldn’t bear to watch the footage of the crash. Watching his country take the floor at the opening ceremonies without him was heartbreaking enough.

19 Kir { 02.15.10 at 10:19 am }

wow, I loved this post, because it speaks to how fragile we all are, you say it eloquently…that we are only here for as long as life allows us to be (G*d , the universe, fate etc) and we can only hope our mark is made while we are here.
Loved this one, Mel

20 Lavender Luz { 02.16.10 at 1:58 pm }

I was trying to put myself in the place of that boy’s parents. There is something so bizarre about the hairswidth between their zenith and their nadir.

Between anyone’s gains and losses.


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