While serving as a volunteer at the Special Olympics Summer Games in Charleston for three days in early June, I encountered a handicap that was quite disturbing. To put this handicap in perspective, let me begin by sharing some of what I observed. Perhaps it is better to say, what I became a part of.
I was a runner. I accompanied various groups of athletes to their events, cheered them on as they competed, and made sure they and their score sheets got to their awards ceremony. From the beginning of each day until the end, one could feel the emotions of the athletes in the air. The emotions were what you would expect at an Olympiad: excitement, nervousness, pride and joy. Now, I raised four children, and I have six grandchildren. As you would expect, I have been to a vast array of sporting events, dance recitals, and other competitions. And these same emotions have been a large part of my life watching my kids and grandchildren compete and perform.
But, there was something different at the Special Olympics that I could not put my finger on at first. I could feel it but could not quite grasp it. It was on the second day that I realized what was happening. There was one feeling that transcended all the emotions in the air; the love this group of athletes had for each other. And, by virtue of my presence in their life space, they were happy to share that with me. In that Olympic village there was no race, there was no gender, there were no preconceived negative perceptions about others, there were no social laws that defined what was attractive and what was not and there was no sense of class structure.
Every athlete tried his or her best. Every athlete cheered for each other, even for those they were competing against. Every athlete encouraged each other, even total strangers from other counties. Every athlete valued every other athlete the same. They even encouraged the volunteers, thanking me for being there and telling me it was OK when I took them to the wrong place. That often referenced golden rule was personified everywhere.
That brings me to the disturbing handicap. It was halfway through the final morning, a Sunday morning. There was a young man who had rap in his soul; he conversed through rap. As I was waiting in line for my next assignment, I overheard him rapping to another volunteer. Buried in that conversation rap were a few words that I hope to carry with me the remainder of my life. "I have been baptized, but that doesn't make me better then you." At that moment, I saw the handicap. Ironically, not one of these athletes had it. We have it, the "normal" Americans. We built and are nourishing a judgment (some would call it hate) handicap.
Politicians use rhetoric about family values, the 47 percent, the lazy, the illegals, the (you fill in the blank) and so on to create irrational class, race and gender fears enhancing that judgment handicap for self elevation and power. We provide corporations with the right to declare what we should look like, what we should own and who we should associate with to set us apart and above others. Many churches and ministers feed the handicap declaring what to keep, what to throw out, and how to interpret the Bible, positioning parishioners to decide who to judge and hate.
So, here are two groups, each with their own handicap. The athletes have no choice regarding their physical handicap, yet their handicap brings them to a life that personifies the golden rule. Meanwhile, outside the Olympic village, we nurture and somehow delight in a self-inflicted handicap of judgment. In Washington, in the fight against immigrants and access to health care, in voices of disdain from those who declare which race, gender, faith or sexual orientation is to be loved or hated, that self-inflicted handicap personifies who we are becoming. Unlike those athletes, ours is a handicap of choice. It is disturbing to see how emphatically and enthusiastically we embrace our handicap. It is disturbing to see our handicap is taking us down a road that sees that golden rule becoming ever smaller in our rearview mirror. That young athlete and rapper gave me a Sunday morning sermon I will never forget.
Rezek, of St. Albans, is a retired meteorologist.