Celebrating Our Somersaults

'gymnastics_spsl_subdistricts_2009_cp-0112' photo (c) 2009, Chris Peterson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Running 16 miles per hour down the 76-foot runway toward the vault, Jordyn Weiber starts with a round-off onto the springboard, then jumps into a back handspring onto the vault, which sends her flying high through the air in a vertical lift topped off by two and a half twists, before landing with her feet on the ground.  

“Holy crap!” I shout at the TV and then at Dan. “Look! Look what that human being just did! UNBELIEVABLE!” 

“She’ll get a deduction for stepping out of bounds,” the TV announcer says back curtly.

 “Oh," I say.

Later I’m watching, mouth agape, as Jordyn dances and jumps and twirls across the balance beam, managing by some miracle to avoid falling on her face.

 “How on earth do they do it?” I ask aloud. 

“Hmmm, she had a few wobbles there,” the announcer says back.  

“MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S DOING SOMERSAULTS ACROSS A FOUR-INCH DEATHTRAP!” I shout back. “I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU TRY IT, LADY!” Dan tells me to stop yelling at the TV because they can’t hear me from London and even if they could, this all happened something like eight hours ago, so there’s no use. 

Sure enough, by the end of the night, Jordyn Wieber missed the chance to compete for all-around gold by 0.233 points.  In gymnastics, it’s all about the deductions, the announcer explained. In gymnastics, the goal is perfection. 

It was the beginning of the Olympic Games, so I was still basking in the idealistic glow of the opening ceremonies, impressed by the commitment and talent of the most gifted competitors in the world, and awed by the staggering feats of athleticism that appeared on my TV screen each night. I was too impressed by the basic accomplishment of landing on one’s feet after completing a so-called “double-twisting, double back flip”—something 99.9% of humanity could never hope to do— to be worried about deductions based on form. 

But, of course, by the end of the final week of the games, I became the calloused Olympic viewer, watching with a bowl of ice cream on my lap as a Chinese diver jumped three stories into the water, rotating three and a half times on his way down, only to be critiqued by me—ice cream lap girl—for making too big of a splash. No longer impressed with the sheer feat of finishing that dive, I found myself, like the judges, requiring perfection. 

I do this in life too. 

When I step back, when I think of my life afresh, it’s pretty darn impressive how much I can get accomplished in a given day: writing an 800-word blog post, responding to dozens of emails, running three miles on the treadmill, making dinner, praying, checking in on friends, keeping the faith when it’s hard, working on my marriage, resting, finally unpacking our suitcases four days after we returned from our road trip, and FINISHING A FREAKING BOOK. But rather than celebrating these impressive everyday “somersaults,” I tend to focus on the “deductions”: I forgot someone’s birthday (that’s a fifth of a point), the dishes haven’t been done (another third of a point), my jeans still fit too tight (a half a point), I never got to that last email (a fourth of a point), I snapped at Dan (a full point deduction for that one). 

By the end of the day, I’m a regular McKayla Maroney, standing on the medal stand with a silver medal around my neck, giving the world my very best “not impressed” face.

In life, it’s all about the deductions, says the announcer in my head. In life, the goal is perfection. 

And I do it to other women too.  I look down my nose at women whose choices are different than mine, noting deductions when I ought to be in awe. Instead of shouting “Holy crap! Look at what this human being just did! She BROUGHT A FREAKING LIFE INTO THE WORLD...THROUGH HER VAGINA!” I critique her on her form: a homebirth, really? And cloth diapers? Can we get any crunchier? 

The Olympics reminded me that smetimes we just gotta step back for a minute, catch a glimpse of the big picture, and celebrate one another’s somersaults.

Pinterest...(or maybe it was Plato)... says we ought to be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. I’d like to think that everyone we meet is in the middle of a double twisting, double back flip and we’ve just forgotten how to be impressed by it.

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