Monday, August 3, 2020 -
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A more beautiful goodbye

IN honor of the holiday of Purim I had planned on spoofing the Olympics in this column and having some fun with political personalities. Something with ski jumps into oblivion, and loopey politicians executing double toe loops on the ice. Maybe noting the “graceful” hand movements of Sarah Palin.

Or Scott Brown and landing triple axels. The teabag party. The fun and possibilities were endless.

But then I saw Joannie Rochette skate on the ice at the Olympics.

“Olympian,” according to the online dictionary, is defined as: majestic in manner or superior to mundane efforts or surpassing all others in scope and effect.

Joannie lost her mother just 48 hours before, to a shocking heart attack. Despite it all, she was out there on the glassy ice, gliding with extraordinary courage and poise.

But it was more than that.

The Olympics, a place where all the athletes are there for their team, their country, their moment, for a moment in time when Rochette skated, the Olympics were transformed into something else.

For all of us viewers, whether by television or in person, the Olympics was transformed into one team. One unit. We were all cheering for and supporting Joannie Rachette, for her pain and loss, for her mother’s dream to see her daughter compete in the Olympics, for the resilience of Joanie’s human heart.

As I watched in wonder, I thought to myself, what a eulogy. What a gorgeous wordless eulogy for her dear “maman.” Joannie skated like she had never skated before. Not only did she choose to continue with the evening as planned, but she was transcendent. Luminescent. Amazingly, on that hardest of nights, she scored the highest she ever had, officially making her a contender for an Olympics gold medal.

This time, with the world united, glued to Joannie Rachette’s poise and strength, the Olympics were transformed into one team, team maman.

AS of press time, I do not know whether Joannie Rachette will achieve the gold medal for being the finest skater or for dazzling technical feat. But it really doesn’t matter. As far as I am concerned, she has already reached the pinnacle of an Olympian literally can be. As far as I am concerned, she has already won the gold medal.

A gold medal? Joannie Rochette is herself golden. She truly was “majestic.” Indeed, she has “surpassed all others in scope and effect.”

Without trying to seek attention or pity, without making a spectacle out of herself or her life, Joannie, with remarkable poise, restraint and grace, decided to continue with her life as planned. Apparently she shared a deeply close relationship with her mom, who, together with her beloved father — the one who had to break the tragic news to her — gave everything in their small village life to have her achieve her Olympian dream.

As she glided onto the ice, knowing she was being watched by millions, except by the one woman who mattered the most, she was all too human when her face contorted in the fresh, raw emotion of a grieving daughter. She faced the music alone, no team, no dancing partner or skater to even lean on. Solo. Solo strength. Somehow, she found her footing and transitioned into a focused ice dancer, her movements sharing her story so eloquently.

Before you knew it, she carried you away to the tune of “La Cumparsita” as she dipped and and curved and glided and sashayed, the embodiment of an exquisite poem in motion. I was mesmerized.

As the music came to a close, she struck her final pose, head bowed, left hand flatly resting on her heart, and as the crowds cheers went up in a roar, her tears streamed down. Right there, broke open in front of us all. So strong, yet so exquisitely human and vulnerable. I felt a tear or two well up in my eye, too.

Her translator conveyed the movements of her lips from the French. “I will remember this forever.”

Joannie, I too, shall remember your heartwrenching, yet ever inspiring and powerful moment of human resilience, forever. Indeed, this was a human-Olympian moment I shall never forget.

You couldn’t have given your maman a more beautiful and precious goodbye.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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