Column: Being good vs. winning

Another Olympic competition has come and gone this year and we are all the better for it: life and the human spirit at its best, which lifted all of us above the daily litany of violence and greed to which we have all been too accustomed.

As we enter this very special season of Advent-Christmas, it’s good to note that only a few medals were won last summer out of the 10,500 athletes who competed in the summer Olympics. But none of the athletes “lost,” because they knew they had done their very best.

Living a life of faith (whatever one’s faith may be) is a lot like competing in the Olympics: Not many win medals for courage or acts of generosity or sacrifice or singular endurance. Mostly, we fly around life’s track — at breakneck speed, sometimes crashing into hurdles that send us sprawling — injuring bodies but our spirits, our hope, our faith.

Yet, winning the race isn’t the point of life, is it?

Like the Olympic athletes, what really matters, in the final analysis, is that we are just good, as good as we can be. Not heroic, not necessarily noble, not extreme in any of the virtues God has assigned to us. Just unafraid, patient, forgiving of one another and kind. Because we know we can’t always win, but we can be good.

Like this true story of a very young intern in a busy hospital emergency room. An older man was brought in by ambulance, struggling for breath. The ER doctor gave him a shot, but the man tossed and turned on the table to a degree that the medication did not work. Then the doctor tried to place an oxygen tent over the patient, but the man, with tears of abject fear in his eyes, pushed it away.

Just then, the young intern moved in to try something different. She spoke quietly to the man, wiped his tears with a small cloth and then got up on the table and lay down beside him. She gently pulled the oxygen tent down over both of them, and very quickly that fresh air stopped the gasping. There were no more tears and the man fell quickly asleep.

That was an Olympic gesture of love, if there ever was one. Being willing to lie down beside and share the pain and fear of another. “When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, for I am with you,” said the great prophet Isaiah.

Sometimes the very best in us is either rejected or it fails to bring about good. But it is the nature of the good in us — no matter the pain or the cost — that, in the end, wins the gold in God’s eyes.

God has made a lot of significant promises to us: to know us and to call us by name, even in the midst of our worst troubles. And God does not forget names. We always have an identity with God, no matter whom we are. And so it is that we know that this God will go with us, even if we must lie down beside the dying. We can’t always win, but we can always be good — and therefore welcome at the manger in Bethlehem.

Emily Preston is a
resident of Jaffrey.

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