August 24, 2021

Our faces, then, are not covered. We all show the Lord's glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

How appropriate that those first Stoke Mandeville Games were invented by Dr Ludwig Guttmann, a German-Jewish refugee from Nazism and its pursuit of a world free of both Jews and disabled people. For the Paralympics are the cult of the body imperfect, an insistence that even a flawed body can be glorious. Jonathon Freedland, The Guardian

Last week I saw glory. It wasn’t on the program, not officially anyway. Seated up high in the temporary wing of the London Aquatic Centre we had come to watch and marvel at Paralympians in the pool. And marvel we did, many times over. Race after race was a celebration of the human spirit, of tenacity, of dedication, of the miracle of life and a belief beyond borders. Each one of us took home our share of viewing incredible feats and national, ceremonious moments.

But of the seventeen and a half thousand folk present that evening, most of us will remember a moment that took place out of the water and out of the ordinary. The swimmer’s nationality I can’t recall and the particular stroke escapes me, but the young lady broke early in the gold medal final and as the starting horn blared a false start, she made her way over to the edge.

Like many swimmers that night she had entered the arena in a wheelchair. Like a few others, she came with a trainer in tow to assist her in entering the pool. The figure in tracksuit white quickly retrieved her wheelchair, drew it nearside and stopped. The crowd waited and watched as the trainer bent beside the girl in the water and exchanged a few words.

A false start usually results in disqualification and the judges took some time to declare that the noise of the crowd had impacted her race start. She would live to swim again. The crowd grew silent captivated by this unfolding event on the sideline. What happened next took us all by surprise.

Scooping into the pool with two strong arms he lifted the swimmer out and carried her back to the starting blocks. Never has such a scoop seemed so beautiful or uplifting. That one swift and serving movement captured our admiration and respect and with one accord, every pair of hands in that swimming stadium clapped and clapped and clapped.

There was no need to stay on for any medal ceremony. To watch that glorious act of tenderness happen before our very eyes; now that was pure Gold.

If the Paralympic Games have taught us anything, it is that perfect is not everything. Leonard Cohen did not perform in the ceremony, though as it happens he was in concert in London at the very same time. One of his songs would have fitted neatly as an anthem for the Paralympic ideal, for it is a hymn to imperfection. "Forget your perfect offering," he sings. "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Jonathon Freedland, The Guardian

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