What is courage?
This is a question that I have been contemplating a lot over the past few months. In American culture, courage is often associated with bold exploits in combat or in competition.
Figure skating is a rare hybrid of athletics and artistry. It takes a tremendous amount of physical strength, stamina, and agility, but it also involves showmanship and spectacle. Because of this, some people sneer at figure skating (specifically in the fifth paragraph); some people say or imply that it isn't a "real" sport, that it's only for fragile-shouldered weaklings who are too delicate for the rough-and-tumble world of "real" athletics. Those same people would probably also sneer at the idea that a figure skater could display courage in competition.
But I believe that even the hardest of hard-nosed hockey fans would be forced to admit that Joannie Rochette's short program on Tuesday was one of the most courageous endeavors of this or any other Olympics, and I'm willing to bet that even the hardest of hard-hearted figure skating critics would struggle to suppress tears while watching her perform.
Rochette unexpectedly lost her mother to a heart attack last weekend. Nobody would have blamed her had she chosen not to compete on Tuesday, but she chose to do so anyway. I can only imagine what she felt as she stepped out onto the ice, but I imagine that she must have been conflicted between the desire to perform well in honor of her mother's memory and the fear of failure, ever-present but particularly ominous on this occasion, I imagine.
And yet, she truly had nothing to fear but fear itself. I believe that every spectator, in the arena and outside it, regardless of the country they came from, was behind her as she skated out to begin her program, and had she fallen or made a mistake, no one would have thought any less of her.
But she didn't. She didn't. She didn't fall; to the untrained eye, she didn't miss a single step.
I know how it feels, during life's difficult moments, to temporarily lose oneself in one's work, to gain some momentary emotional relief by focusing one's mind on something that requires one's full attention. However, I do not know how it feels when the grief is as deep as the loss of an immediate family member must be, nor when the task at hand involves a performance for millions, if not billions, of people. Again, I can only imagine what she must have felt as she finished her program, but as the emotions washed over her again, as the memory of the past few days came back to her after momentary oblivion, the wave of expression that crossed her face was more eloquent than words. That was one of the most beautiful and poignant moments I have ever witnessed in my life.
The word "courage" comes from the Latin word for "heart". To me, the most courageous acts are those performed in the name of love. On Tuesday night Joannie Forchette displayed incredible courage and fortitude, strength of will and resilience of spirit in an overwhelming tribute to the love shared between her and her mother. Whatever the results of tomorrow's night competition, last night was a triumph for her.
Yes, sneering hockey fans ... I do believe in miracles.