As I gain some distance from my immersion in watching the Winter Olympics, I’ve been distilling in my mind the lasting impressions. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympics–it’s part Greek history, part supreme athletic comptetition, part incredible storytelling, part national/international pride. Underneath all the corporate sponsorships, the sometimes not-so-latent nationalism, the training programs that look more like crass professionalism than true amateurism–there are many human stories, and the best of these concerns the beautiful Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette.
The picture above was taken at the conclusion of her short program, the first of two skates that each competitor must undertake. Many of you already know why she looks the way she does: her mother died suddenly just days before her competition. Yet she skated beautifully, both in the short and long programs, earning a bronze medal.
Many today wonder whether happiness is possible in a world where there is suffering. I am compelled by Aristotle’s answer, that it’s a way of being at work virtuously toward an end or purpose. I saw a hint of that on the ice: Joannie pursued her goal even in the face of a terrible grief.
I think collectively our biggest mistake is to confuse happiness with pleasure. I’m certain that Joannie did not have a good time on the ice. I’m sure she was already nervous about executing her routine, terrified of the billions of people watching her, distraught that her mother could not be there, scared for her father’s having to deal with everything, and so on. It was not, I’m sure, a pleasurable experience. And yet I hazard to guess that she was happy, in Aristotle’s sense: she knew what she had to do; she persevered through the trauma, and she did it.
Ignatius writes that we are created to praise God. Joannie did that, and continues to do that, I think. I understand Ignatius to mean by “praising God” living with a beautiful purpose, and being willing to live it in the face of difficulty.