Earlier this week, my roommate and I were nestled on our sofa watching figure skaters glide, leap, “twizzle,” and twist themselves into ridiculous shapes as they danced across the ice arena in PyeongChang. We gasped with each precarious toss and wobbly landing and felt our arms prickle with goosebumps as the top skaters’ eyes filled with tears of joy under the thunderous applause.
We quickly realized that we had no idea how the actual judges’ scoring system worked, so, naturally, together we sat on the couch with our carton of ice cream and created our own “normal people scoring system.” Points for making it to the Olympics in the first place! Points for getting onto the ice without falling! Points for getting up after you fell instead of simply crying in the corner! Points for cool costumes! Points for excellent music! Points for participation! Points for everyone!
Maybe we just felt like being goofy after several hours of homework. Maybe on some subconscious level we needed to find a way to justify our own suddenly obvious and clumsy humanness in comparison to what seemed to be the athletes’ superhuman essence. Probably it was some combination of the two. Either way, it left me in a weird place of being totally amazed at the incredible beauty and gravity-defying achievement of which humanity is capable and at the same time feeling terribly inadequate for not being able to hold up my end of the bargain.
As the games draw to a close in PyeongChang, I’m struck by what a weird thing it is to be human. To be surrounded by so much greatness, to maybe find a glimmer of that greatness in yourself, and to at the same time hold life’s mediocrity, awkwardness, and even agony.
For me this week, this tension felt like recognizing the built-up toll of February-in-Minnesota syndrome on my own body and spirit: too little sunlight, too little fresh air, not enough time at the gym, too much caffeine, too many baked goods and not enough vegetables, too much time spent studying or writing in my apartment and not enough time with real life human beings. My usually over-achieving self has been ridiculously unproductive, sucked into the bottomless social media pit. I’ve taken more naps than I have in years and have spent all week trying to come up with a half-way decent idea for this blog post, largely to no avail. In my frustrating unproductivity, I’ve gotten tangled up in the usual webs of self-doubt and irritability. I’ve been feeling helpless and angry as I read the news, unsure of what to say, to write, or to do and pessimistic about if any of it could ever matter anyway.
But this week also looked like tromping around a frozen lake, taking in a dazzling sunset, and feeling the icy winter air reawaken my lungs. It looked like stepping onto my yoga mat each day—embracing that unexpected surge of joy when I stuck a balancing posture I didn’t know I was capable of and moments later being humbled by my own tired arms that couldn’t hold the next pose. It looked like being carried by the courage, perseverance, and undeniable strength of teenagers from Parkland, Florida. It tasted like shared homecooked meal of chicken parmesan, conversations about vocation and politics and privilege over coffee shop lattes, and plenty of sass and laughter over glasses of coffee porter. It felt like overflowing gratitude as I recognized over and over my own unbelievable support network of family and friends and mentors, people who love me well and gently call me out of my own fear and self-centeredness.
But maybe the experience of being human is holding the tension and creating room in contradiction. It’s being both an overachiever and wildly unproductive. It’s admiring the figure skater’s triple lutz while being okay with the fact that you are sitting on the couch making up a ridiculous scoring system with your roommate. It’s pushing yourself just a little bit farther and being amazed at your own strength one moment, and accepting that it’s okay to take a rest the next.
So today I’m going to feel all of the feels. The mundaneness. The winter angst. The beauty. The gratitude. The disappointments. The frustration. I’m going to give myself permission to claim each of these, trusting that somehow in life’s great mystery, there is enough space in me to be all of them at once — clumsy landings and all.