Thursday, February 22, 2018

Doing unto others together

Like many of us, I have been captivated by the Olympic Games being held in South Korea these last two weeks. I have watched with delight the figure skaters, the downhill racers, the crazy people who snowboard backwards and flip around in the air. I’ve held my breath as the bobsleds race down the track at 80 miles per hour and skiers go skidding into the protective netting after crashing off the alpine course. I’ve smiled at the number of teddy bears thrown onto the ice rink after a skater’s successful program that the cute little girls go out to retrieve and do whatever it is they will do with them – give them to the skater backstage, perhaps?

But the most impressive moment in the Olympics for me was not the action of a winner but what happened at the end of the cross country race, the action of the guy who came in fourth to last. This was a young man from Tonga who just learned to ski on snow in the twelve weeks and came to the games expecting to come in last in the competitive cross country event. After all, Tonga is an island in the South Pacific. Not the kind of place you’d expect to find skiers of any kind. But this man, named Pita Taufatofua, trained hard and joined with nearly 120 other men to compete in the 15-kilometer cross country ski race in the Olympics.

Pita did not come in last as he had expected  - three others were behind him. He and the others waited at the finish line to welcome the last skier, from Mexico, also not exactly a skiers’ haven, as he crossed the finish line nearly 30 minutes after the winner of the race had come and gone. Pita stayed behind to welcome the Mexican skier with open arms and to congratulate him on finally finishing the grueling race.

I think of this gesture when I hear Jesus say, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is of course what we now call the Golden Rule. Notice that it starts with us. It starts with our own actions – let us look to find ways to treat others the way we would like to be treated. As Pita welcomed the last-place skier with warmth and appreciation, he was showing hospitality and friendship across competitive lines.  But unlike the winners who embrace on the podium as champions and masters, the guys at the end of the line were embracing with joy and relief because they had finished a grueling event, one that they had to put everything they had into just to finish it at all.

I enjoy watching the champions do their best and celebrate with them in their success. But I love even more those folks at the end rejoicing that they simply made it through the race. I can identify with them. For most of us, just getting through is about all we can muster sometimes. The days can be long and sometimes discouraging. Sometimes the goal is just to get through when all around us the world seems in chaos. When the news is troubling. When grief lurks just around the corner. It is tempting to cover up the effort it takes, to say that everything is fine when in fact we are struggling.

And so let us take a page from Pita the Tongan’s playbook. Let us welcome one another and show compassion and friendship to one another as we go about our days. Let us celebrate the every day victories, the just getting through. Let us recognize our fellow travelers in this journey of life and greet one another with joy and recognition that we are grateful for our companions. Let us in everything do to others as we would have them do to us.

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