The Olympics, and achievement just out of reach
Before our morning Bible study some of us walk up to the local coffee shop, bypassing Starbucks. We're friends with the owners and the staff and we've been walking up there almost every day for a decade.
When Bill opens the place, he takes some time to banter with us, mostly making fun of our friend Gary. With nonstop Olympics coverage this week, Gary's been regaling us with stories of his glory days when he almost made the U.S. Olympic team in gymnastics in 1964.
Many of us have such stories-- the if-only tales of fame and success just out of reach.
Gary was amazed that the gymnasts were doing routines that his generation never even imagined were possible. A French guy's "Victoria cross" the night before was especially shocking, he said. He shook his head. Gary is 65 and somewhat out of shape, but occasionally he does a handstand for us, and all the change falls out of his pockets. It's pretty funny and sort of amazing, too.
If-only tales. We've learned to embrace these missteps in life, because without them, we might have missed God along the way. Instead of being bitter about getting a silver medal instead of a gold one, Gary is just happy for what he's been given. That's rare.
But stories of almost-success will never be the same for us now.
A chance encounter
A few weeks ago, Bill said he'd been riding his bike around the lake when he heard someone shouting or crying, he wasn't sure which. He turned the bike around and pedaled back down the road and saw a woman inside a security fence that enclosed one of the large estates that face the lake.
She explained her daughter was out of town, and she had come by her house to check on things, and the electronic gate had shut and she didn't have the code to get out. She was trying to reach her husband on her cell, but there was no answer. She broke into tears.
The real cause of her distress was her son-in-law, she said. He had been hiking and climbing in the Sangre de Cristo range in Colorado, and his family had not heard from him for a few days. They were all greatly concerned.
It was a rare moment of transparency and weakness shared between two strangers. Bill used his phone to get in touch with the husband, and finally got her out of the gate. Then he continued on his bike ride.
A few days later he found her husband's number in his phone and decided to call to check on the situation.
No, the husband said, they still hadn't heard anything. They were assuming an accident had happened.
Life can be strange
We'd been following Bill's bulletins on the situation since his first encounter. I prayed for the guy and his family as we walked home that day, if memory serves.
A few days after that, the report came in-- the man had fallen off a mountain during a hike and was missing.
Today, as Gary was ending his Olympics story of how gymnasts used to do things in the old days, Bill came over with the newspaper. There was the obituary. The man had fallen 1,700 feet to his death. He was 44.
Another tale of success just out of reach, I guess. This time a true tragedy.
As we lamented the man's fate and expressed amazement at Bill's happening upon the mother-in-law and the whole quirkiness of coincidence, Bill mentioned he was getting ready for his long-planned vacation next week.
Maybe he hadn't connected the dots on everything until that moment, but we did, and we sort of just looked at him, blankly.
Bill's going to Colorado to climb Long's Peak.