Carrying The Flame Within Me
I have an obsession that peaks every four years (no—it’s not my psychosis with leap year) that I’ve had ever since I was eight years old. I still recall with fondness sitting on the couch with dad, cheering on the men’s 400 meter swim team to victory. We leaned in towards the television, nervously munching snacks and trying not to choke on Cracker Jacks during our hooting and hollering. Even though our T.V. was only 14″, and the picture was fuzzy, we felt like we were there – I could practically smell the chlorine in the pool. Rowdy Gaines, the anchor leg, dove in the water and as he sprinted towards the edge of the pool, we were on our feet (popcorn crumbs everywhere) jumping around and screaming like preschoolers in a bounce house. As the champions stood on the podium, and the National Anthem rang out, Dad and I placed imaginary gold medals around each other’s necks – because somehow it felt like our victory too. Since then, the Olympics have become a part of me…I stay up till the wee hours of the morning just so I can see who crossed the finish line first (even if it means frizzy hair and baggy eyes the next day at work – there’s nothing a triple shot can’t fix). Every four years for that 17 day period I become a different person. There’s also a legend in our home that I tackled my husband just before he could turn to a news station that might (or might not) have revealed the gold medalists before I’d seen the race. I’d like to say that I gently and lovingly removed the remote from his hand, but the broken lamp would prove otherwise.
So, yes: I can sometimes take things to the extreme. And last spring on a Christian cruise and tour to the Mediterranean with Harvest Ministries and Inspiration, a small part of that Olympic fever came over me. It happened pretty much instantly, catching us all off guard.
Just a couple days into cruising and our trip was already even more than I had dreamt. The ship was peaceful and relaxing and the scenes more breathtakingly full than any of the photos I’d seen online. After docking we disembarked out for our first excursion: to see the Parthenon and Acropolis. I pulled out my bucket-list and before we even got there excitedly crossed off those famous landmarks. That always feels nice, doesn’t it?
When we rolled up to our stop it was sprinkling, yet despite the less-than-sunny weather our spirits were high. Mine had already cleared the high-bar with a 9+ score (as you can imagine). The grandeur of those huge ancient pillars overcame every distraction. I felt like a Lilliputian next to those ancient Grecian ruins (I know I’m mixing more than metaphors there…)! Walking among those historic stone hallways simply took my breath away.
Some ruins are just humungous piles of rock…and it gets tiring looking at another stone structure after days of doing the same. Somehow, this wasn’t that way at all. I was fascinated with a capital ‘F’. I was so consumed that I didn’t hear my husband’s constant…um, encouragements…to keep up. Then something unexpected caught my eye. Through the pillars I saw a little flickering flame. Grecian S’mores, perhaps? Curiously, I walked closer and saw a fire burning in an elevated bowl with three flags around it: Greece, London, and the famous five-ringed Olympic flag.
Then it hit me. This was no campfire; it was THE Olympic flame! My camera had turned off some time before, as I was actually enjoying using my own eyes for a bit (while they still work). But quickly UP came my hand and ON went that little switch and CLICK-CLICK-CLICK went the little motors that were sure to capture some wonderful stories to bring back home. I’d like to say time slowed down in that moment, but it didn’t. It felt a blur from the speed! Down the road, a crowd was forming, and in the middle of the excitement, I could see a woman wearing an all-white suit, holding…the torch. Bracing my camera, I sprinted towards the torchbearer (I could hear “Chariots of Fire” playing in the background). Squeezing my way through the crowd, I suddenly found myself wide-eyed in front of the woman and the torch. She was just about as excited as I was – this was her moment to shine. As she smiled for all of the clicking cameras, I asked if I could take a picture with her. I handed my camera off to a bystander and turning to pose, I put one arm around the torchbearer and the other one, like a dream, braced the torch. I’m pretty sure I felt the power of Wonder Woman come into my hand and surge through my body.
Soon after, the runner had to actually start running, and I watched as she disappeared down the road along with the crowd of enthusiasts. I stood there reflecting on the wonderful travels that torch would experience and all it would see (I know it doesn’t have eyes…just feeling poetic). I sat down on the curb with a sigh and wondered if it counted to check something off my bucket list before I had actually added it. I never thought in a million years I’d come so close to the Olympic torch. Regardless, a life-long dream had just become a reality. I probably could have gone home right then with a completely contented heart. But I knew, like that torch, there were far more places to see. Just on the bus ride over, I had already seen so many amazing sights: ancient ruins slowly crumbling into the cobalt sea, the stunning white houses stacked up along the cliffs, and the beautiful people that live in them. Even still, there were many more excursions and places waiting to be explored. That little flame would eventually end up in London. Just thinking about it seemed to light a little ember in my own heart.
I realized that my traveling journey had only just begun. I looked up and saw my fellow travelers loading up the bus again. My husband stood off to the side, watching me with a tickled little smirk – he knew I was just reveling in the moment. Standing up, we walked towards one another and without a word, he held my hand and led me to the bus. I stopped at the bus door for just a moment to look down the road we’d soon travel; the thought of adventure after adventure fueled that little flame in my heart that with each step up onto the bus, grew brighter and stronger.