We knew that Simone Biles’ Olympic experience was going to be a memorable one. We just didn’t know what was going to make it so memorable.
My hunch is that very few of us can understand the physical, mental and emotional pressure felt by elite athletes like Simone Biles. I know that I couldn’t possibly put myself in her place. She lives in a different universe.
However, we all face challenges as we go down the path of life. Sometimes, we are ready for them. Sometimes, they cause us to zig instead of zag. Sometimes, they cause us to stop right where we are because we can go no further. It’s in moments like that we need help from others to figure out how to keep going.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe was thinking about the years that he had spent together with the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. He said the following to the Israelites: “Remember the long way that Adonai your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that God might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts (Deut. 8:2).”
The Israelites expected to go directly from Egypt to Canaan. It’s about 200 miles from Cairo to the border of Israel. Even traveling by foot, it shouldn’t take much more than a month. But they clearly weren’t ready to proceed into the Promised Land. So, they followed Moshe and God on a winding and indirect path which lasted 40 years. They still got to their destination, but the journey looked very different than the one that they had anticipated.
These last two years, we were all forced to pause in our journeys. We could not have anticipated a global pandemic would drastically alter our lives in the way that it did. We all had to change our routes and navigate new terrain. We had to reconsider our expectations. Work, school, family life, religion and recreation all looked different during these months of lockdown, quarantine and social distancing. Further, those moments when we pause are not just interruptions. They are also opportunities.
Hopefully, our detours will take less than 40 years and we will quickly get back on track.
However, perhaps this experience prepared us to receive the story of Simone Biles a little differently than we might have at the last pre-pandemic Olympics. We’ve started to understand that we have to take care of our health – both physical and mental. We’ve started to understand that our life’s journey is not necessarily going to be a straight line. We’ve started to understand that we might not get to the Promised Land today or tomorrow, but if we continue our journey, we can still make it there.