Why are we so hung up on the Olympics while the world seems to be falling down around us? Precisely because the world is falling down around us. As Ira Gershwin once wrote, “With politics and taxes, and people grinding axes, there’s no happiness.” We crave good news. Election coverage adds to whatever anxieties we already have. The Middle East? Russia? Natural disasters at home and abroad? Wars and rumors of wars? Then Simone Biles wins multiple gold medals, and for just a moment the walls don’t seem to be closing in as relentlessly.
Perhaps that’s why we sometimes pay so much attention to sports in general. Even if the euphoria of victory on the field or the court or the mat fades quickly, at least we had euphoria. At least there was a flicker of relief from the latest crisis. And even when our team or our athlete loses, at least the winner doesn’t have the power to raise our taxes or regulate our lives. In the case of the Olympics, we have the privilege of seeing a host of young people who are models of self-discipline and drive. We can admire abilities that took years of tireless, determined effort to build. Like the best of the best that they are, the Olympians make it look easy. The way Fred Astaire made dancing look easy. The way the Beatles made music look easy.
Recently, the editor of the newspaper in my small town wrote an editorial in which she requested that readers inform the paper of any positive, uplifting news in the community. She expressed her belief that too often, the bad news is the star of the show. And how right she was. Years ago, a co-worker told me that he never ate while watching the news. He explained that the news and good digestion were incompatible. Think of the famous headlines of history such as “Titanic Sinks” or “Stock Market Crashes!” It seems as though the only good news is bad news, or at least that seems to be the perspective of the media that transmit news.
Why were movie musicals so popular during the Great Depression? For a few coins, we could imagine ourselves in beautiful evening clothes, dancing our way up silvery staircases to a life of limitless possibilities and endless positivity. We escaped – at least mentally – the question of where our next meal was coming from. The musicals spread the good news that even in troubled times, it was possible to find at least a little happiness here and there.
So enjoy the good news of the Olympics and the stories of people who reach the century mark and still have their wits about them and the couples celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary and the young people making valuable community contributions. They remind us that despite it’s “sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,” life can be beautiful.