Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chariots of Fire

Last night I watched Chariots of Fire, a 1981 British film. It tells the fact-based story of two Cambridge athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice and for the glory of winning. Contrasting the spiritual motives of one man versus the more selfish goals of the other, the film shows that despite the different reasons they run, both men are prepared to make great personal sacrifices to be the very best at what they do. Their fierce, personal competition ends up uniting them in a great victory in the 1924 Olympics against a highly favored American team.

What makes a person so single-minded that they can focus intently on a goal and shut everything out of his or her life that does not contribute to the achievement of that goal? It's common to hear the advice: You can do anything you put your mind to, but it takes a very strong person to actually want something so badly that they are prepared to do what it takes to get it. How we deal with the obstacles that stand between us and what we want to accomplish says a lot about our character and endurance. When we hear an inspirational story like Chariots of Fire, we admire these men who overcame adversity and triumphed.

When you think about it, we are surrounded by heroic people who struggle every day to get by. We may not think about their deeds as heroic, but when you consider the harsh hands they have been dealt, you must acknowledge the great courage they show just getting out of bed. Many have physical or mental problems that should limit what they can do, but by the sheer force of their wills, they rise above what is "normal" and lead rich, full lives. They refuse to accept that they are in any way limited, and look for ways to compensate. Someone sent me an e-mail recently with some beautiful paintings attached. At the end of the e-mail I learned that the artist was a quadriplegic who painted with the brush between his teeth.

Parents with special needs children have certainly been dealt harsh hands and yet so many of them find wellsprings of strength that help them learn as much as they can about their child's condition, often as much as many non-specialist doctors. They network with each other and learn things about coping that even doctors can't tell them. They advocate fiercely for their children, sometimes boldly questioning a doctor's diagnosis, or advice that seems wrong to them, and often time proves them right. These heroes, outside their circle of family and friends, get no special recognition for their efforts, no gold medals, no movies made about them, but they are perhaps more deserving of our admiration. They fight, not for fame or fortune, but for the best life their child can have.

What if Liddell and Abrahams had not won those races in the 1924 Olympics, would we consider them failures? No, it is not so much the victory that defines success but the striving. When we put everything we have into an endeavor and hold nothing back, we have already won, no matter the outcome. At some point in Chariots of Fire, Abrahams, who is obsessed with winning, tells his girlfriend: If I can't win, I won't run! Her wise reply: If you don't run, you can't win.


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The Whiner said...

Thanks for the shout out. We need one sometims, especially as I am sitting here waiting for my kid to come out of the OR, and sufferin from an intense headache and lack of sleep.

Jim Pantaleno said...

I know it's a small consolation but you have a whole lot of prayers coming your way. We'll be available to help out next week if you need us.