A Special Hug from an Olympian

Last Friday I was on my way to the gym for a group exercise class. It had been a busy week, as all of them are, and I was completely wiped out, looking forward to sweating out all of my frustrations and negativity.

It an interesting thing these days, riding my bike over to the gym, which is the rec center on the Texas A&M campus. There are so many students walking by, but instead of the usual moments of “Howdy!” that used to accompany passing by someone, most students are walking with their heads looking down at their phones. In fact, many of the other cyclists are doing the same. I was noticing this and thinking about the bizarre lack of connection that we occupy the world with, when, as Brene Brown says, we are hard wired for connection and that’s what we so desperately seek. In fact, I’ve read an article recently that talked about the real cause of addictions is a lack of connection.

It’s a rare thing these days to pass by a pedestrian and actually experience a moment of connection, a moment of “I see you” and “I’m letting you see me.” To me, that’s the real meaning of Namaste. When we put down the distractions and defenses down long enough to see each other, then we experience our oneness, our unity.

So, I parked my bike and as I walked up I saw lots of people with matching t-shirts and lots of tents set up outside the natatorium and remembered that the Special Olympics was going on. I also remembered seeing an ad in the paper a few weeks ago, asking for volunteers to help with the event. “Too much going on for me to add anything else to my plate,” I thought.

I had a few minutes before class, so I went over to the big bay window that overlooks the natatorium. There was an exciting whirlwind of activity in there. People warming up in one pool, scores being gathered and posted, participants greeting one another, a new race just beginning in another pool.

There was a young man, maybe he was an older boy, standing near me, also watching the activity through the window. Every time someone came up to the window next to us, he enthusiastically asked them, “Do y’all go here?” I suddenly realized he was an Olympian himself, a participant, and I wasn’t sure if he was asking if the people went to school there at A&M or if they were participating in the Olympics. Nobody seemed to even acknowledge him. I was struck by how refreshing this guy was. There seemed to be no filters present that made him feel self-conscious, or feel like he was bothering people by asking them questions….all filters that I strongly have cemented in place.

After they left, I asked him if he was a participant. He lit up inside and told me about all the events….the 25 m, the 100 relay, and a few others that I couldn’t quite understand. His radiance was so vivid and bright. It just seemed to be erasing my depressed funk with every breath. We talked for a few more minutes. I asked him where he was from – Dallas – and he asked me, “Do you go here?” I laughed and said, “Yes, a loooong time ago, back in 1987.” He said he had a cousin who graduated in 1986. Our exchange was extraordinary. Totally uplifting and full of genuine authenticity. It was beautiful, actually. The amount of presence that he had was indescribable. So very present. So in the Now.

I said I had to get to class and so I wished him luck for the next day’s competition and safe travels back home. I started to turn around to leave and noticed he was walking quickly up to me, arms outstretched. Before I knew what was happening, he embraced me in one of the best, most awesome, most needed hugs I’ve ever received. I nearly started crying and realized I was holding back “for fear of what other people would think.” As I walked away, he shouted at me, “Good luck!”

Up the stairs I floated. What a God moment. The veil, for just a few brief minutes, was pulled back and I knew what just happened was something so special. Love was permeating every cell of me. Wow. “Why can’t every interaction with a human be like this?,” I thought. “Why do I insist on operating with these ridiculous filters of constantly holding back who I am?” I watched how the veil slid back over my eyes, back into abnormal normalcy.

Next year, I’m signing up to work the Special Olympics.