--Sergei Bubka, Olympic pole vaulter, former Soviet Union.
My friend Jimmy raises tiny baby sting ray sharks in thousand gallon salt water tanks in his suburban basement. My colleague Barb spends her free time on the frigid slopes of a Vermont cross country skiing course, shushing away in a silent winter wonderland. My brother Ed straps on a backpack and hikes tens of miles up and down the hills and crags of the northern Appalachian trail. My fellow choir member Jackie practices her solo in the car, on the way to work, while other commuters look on with astonishment.
And me? I sit down in a chair, stare at a blank computer screen or an empty legal pad, and try and create from thoughts and ideas and words, a coherent and, hopefully enlightening, piece of writing.
And we're all just amateurs.
Folks who embrace individual passions and pursuits, not for pay or prestige, not because we have to, but because we want to, because we have found some "thing" that we absolutely love doing and thus we do it, with joy, with enthusiasm, and most important, with love. "For the love of": this is what amateur means--to undertake a sport or a hobby, an art or a craft, a calling or an avocation, because when we do this ONE THING, it makes us happy. It thrills our hearts.
Which is the main reason I'm watching the Winter Olympics, as 2,925 athletes from 92 countries compete against each other in the chilly mountains of South Korea. Yes, its awe inspiring to see ski jumpers hurl through the air at sixty miles per hour and figure skaters jump with such grace, to witness the geeky precision of curling and the herculean stamina needed for cross country ski racing.
But what I really enjoy is seeing how much these athletes so love to do what they are doing. How wide their smiles are; how sincere and authentic their efforts are; how committed and even brave they are, as they do their best, give their all, and not because of a paycheck, not most of the time. A myth of the modern Olympic movement is that these once "amateur athletes" are now paid for their "work". The truth is, that save for a few high profile athletes who secure multi-million dollar endorsements, the overwhelming number of Olympians have minimal financial support for their efforts. Most make great life sacrifices to pursue their dreams of gold. And most will go home without a medal, but with one truth to warm their hearts, to hold on to as a sparkling memory.
They are doing what they love. They are still amateurs. They have discovered what makes their souls soar and their hearts sing, this gift that God gave them, for the love of.
Every human being needs to be an amateur, to discover and then embrace some "thing" that captures the heart and thrills the spirit. Connects us somehow to the deepest part of the soul. I think of folks who spend hours in the garden and find their place in the world among the flowers and the vegetables and even the weeds. An amateur carpenter who takes a piece of wood and then lovingly shapes it into a family heirloom, a gift someone will cherish forever. The weekend artist who feels so free when she parks herself with an easel next to the waterfall and then just paints. A cyclist who loses himself in the thousands of circles that he turns on the pedals, with the pumping of his legs, as the world in beauty glides by.
It is the rare person whose full time work is also their full time bliss. No, most of us find our liberation, our happiness, in some "thing" else. Volunteering. Creating. Sporting. Playing. So here's to the amateur in all of us. What do you really love to do?
Find that out, discover what God made you to do, to love, and then you will win the gold medal! Of that I am sure.