Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Proof Through the Night

Watching the men's 4 x 100 freestyle final with Skylar tonight was a tremendous experience. I know the fact that we were all recovering from her meltdown a little earlier in the evening -- the worst yet -- played a role in focusing our collective attention on the screen. But the result was worth it, since she understood for the first time how thrilling it can be to root your team on. Later, before bed, she came out to say goodnight right as the medal ceremony was about to take place. Although it was late, I thought it would be nice for her to see the presentation of the medals -- she has always loved medals and ribbons -- and, for good measure, the playing of the national anthem.

For years, I have been very conflicted about what to do at public ceremonies. Should I sit or stand? If I stand, should I do so in a way that projects disengagement or interest? When I was her age, though, I loved to hear it played. I even sung it as a goodbye gesture to our house in Pennsylvania right before we moved. It was hard for me to learn, during my year in Germany and my time at Berkeley, that being moved by "The Star-Spangled Banner" was something to feel sheepish about and, if possible snuff out.

Maybe it's the way this election year has played out. Or the fact that the United States seems so lost in the world right now. Or just the pervasive sense in these parts that we're entering a depression. But, whatever the reason, I've been finding myself flooded with unexpected patriotism lately. It makes me blush to admit. I know that I'm tuning into these Olympics more than I did for any of them since 1984 because of the intense media build-up to them that started several years ago. And I'm a little ashamed of that, too.

It doesn't matter, though, when I can bond with my daughter the way we did tonight. After absorbing her rage earlier, telling her it was alright to be angry, that I wouldn't hold her lashing out against her, we needed a way to make things better. Talking about the historic importance of African-American swimmer Cullen Jones's place in the 4 X 100 team, helping her understand why Michael Phelps's quest to win eight gold medals is such a big deal, explaining that the astonishing last fifty meters of the relay swum by Jason Leszak represented a special sort of redemption after his disappointments in Sydney and Athens, watching the slow-motion replay of French swimmer Alain Bernard possibly costing his team the gold by turning his head to see Leszak at the end. It all took only a few moments, but felt like a palimpsest of a pattern in our relationship, one that makes me feel very good. We know how to come back together after being torn apart. It was her idea to sing along to the national anthem. I joined in without hesitation. It was perfect.

Tomorrow I'll tell her that my earliest memories of a historic event date back to the Munich Olympics of 1972. I had a thing for Mark Spitz, grasping his achievement in my four-year-old way even though I was not quite able to follow his races on our 19" black-and-white television. I'll probably refrain from describing what it was like to watch Jim McKay for hours, sensing that something grave was underway without having the cognitive ability to comprehend the details. But there will be a time for sharing that as well. Maybe I will manage to connect it to what we shared together tonight.
Tags: daughter, history, politics, sports

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