The story came to my attention only moments before I was to begin the first night of a conference that would last for the next three days. For the better part of the afternoon I had wondered how I would begin the program that evening. Though I had a good idea of what our time together would look like following the opening, precisely how the first moments of the night would unfold remained a mystery. In such moments of uncertainty, when it seems as if reasonable solutions exist only as glimmers of a distant possibility, I have found that there is usually a piece of the puzzle that is missing, something that has yet to come to my attention. My trust in that feeling, and knowing that there is more to come, often replaces anxious moments of panic with a strange calmness.
I walked into the dining area of our home and opened a large envelope that had been given to me earlier in the day. It contained several accounts of human triumph, one of which moved me so deeply that I found myself wiping the tears from my face before I had even finished reading the paper. Later that evening, I shared the story with a live audience of several hundred people. The story had the same effect on them. The paper that had come to me that day described an incident occurring at the Special Olympics of 1998.
The Special Olympics was organized as an opportunity for children and young adults to join together in the spirit of friendly competition. What makes these Olympic games different is that each individual competes with the challenge of physical or mental conditions that prevent him or her from participating in the International World Olympics that capture the worlds attention every four years. This particular article was the story of nine children who had become friends during their time at the Olympic camp in 1998.
One morning they found themselves competing together on the same track, in the same event. At the sound of the starting gun, they were off toward the finish line at the other end of the course. It was a young boy with Down’s syndrome that made this account so powerful. As the other competitors bounded down the track using whatever skills they had to work toward the finish, this special boy slowed down and looked back to the starting line. He saw that one of his teammates had fallen at the beginning of the race and was struggling to stand up.
The boy with Downs syndrome suddenly stopped, turned, and began walking back toward his friend. One by one, each of the other competitors realized what was happening, turned and followed, until they had retraced their steps to the point where they had begun. Lifting their friend to his feet, they locked arms, and together walked down the track to the finish. In that moment those nine children redefined the rules of the competition. With the clock still ticking away, they moved beyond the limits of time and sport to create an experience where they each finished in their own way, all at the same time. It made no sense for one of them to arrive at the finish without the others.
This story is important for two reasons. Each time it is shared, the image of the children working together elicits a powerful emotion. Rather than sadness or frustration, it is often described as an emotion of hope. That emotion opens the door to greater possibilities and new outcomes in our lives. Additionally, the account provides a beautiful example of how a group of young people, in the innocence of their love for one another, redefined the outcome of their experience by applying a new rule to an existing condition. In their own way, the children of the Special Olympics remind us of the great possibilities of our lives, as we move through a rare moment of history.
We have been shown that it is possible to redefine the parameters of prophecy for our future. The evidence reminds us that we intercede on our own behalf each time we respond to the challenges of our daily lives. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate such possibilities to ourselves is to explore the nature of compassion, time, forgiveness, and prayer through the eyes of those who have come before us. In the words of their time, we are reminded that there is only one of us here and, above all other reasons, we have come to this world to love.
The Isaiah Effect