The Olympics are awesome.
At this very moment I’m working on my laptop in front of the television, with the Olympics on low volume. I can switch my attention to it whenever I want, turning it up and tuning it in. The athleticism in every sport is just incredible and inspirational. (Though not inspirational enough to get me off the couch, apparently…)
As a storyteller, I’m even more drawn to the personal experiences than to the events themselves. The stories give the backdrop to the events.
Like this gospel story. There’s an event (a healing, criticism, rebuke, teaching, rejoicing), but behind that event is the personal, tragic story of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. It’s her story that brings real meaning to the event.
And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. [from Luke 13]
This year the stories of the Olympic refugee team have moved me past words.
You may have heard of the experience of a Syrian swimmer named Yusra Mardini. A high level swimmer in Syria, her home was destroyed by a bomb. She and her sister decided to flee a year ago, going through Lebanon and Turkey, before getting into a small boat (built for 6 or 7 occupants) with eighteen others, heading for Greece. The boat’s motor failed, and it began taking on water. Ms. Mardini and her sister, along with the only other two people on board who could swim, got into the water where they spent over three hours pulling and pushing the boat to safety. Everyone survived, and the Mardini sisters and their parents eventually ended up in Berlin, where Yusra continued her training and was selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.
This story inspires me in so many ways. It’s amazing how a sport became a vehicle for freedom from tyranny and danger. And how this young woman’s personal drama challenges assumptions and fears about refugees, just as the woman Jesus healed challenged the religious norms about sabbath activity.
Whenever one person is able to rise from a situation that imprisons—illness, oppression, cruelty, misunderstanding, poverty—that story becomes part of the larger human narrative. It’s important to create a landscape where everyone has the opportunity to rise.
Because the truth is, when any person rises, we all are inspired to stand a little straighter.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier