Monday, December 21, 2009

I saw an old flame...

Seeing an old flame… somewhat appropriate that I should write this on the first day of winter....

So a few weeks ago, I updated my status on Facebook to read, “I’m sooo excited. Meeting an old flame from overseas next Thursday”. I think it caused a minor stir although some people were too polite to comment till after I clarified. After all, what else could “an old flame” mean besides an ex-boyfriend? LOL!!! People! People! Have you ever known me to do something completely irresponsible? Or even veer in that direction? OK fine, the little incident with my eating that whole chocolate cheesecake was completely undocumented. I never told a soul about it! Hahaha.

Jokes aside, I did see an “old flame” from overseas recently. “It” traveled thousands of kilometers on a long and important journey, not just for me but for the world. At the end of October this year, at the Panathenian Stadium where the modern Olympics were born 113 years ago, the Olympic flame for the Vancouver 2010 Games was transferred to Canadian control.

Now, I’m no athlete. I don’t even pretend to exercise daily. What touches my spirit beyond words is what the Olympics represent. Some say, “The Olympic flame is the Olympic Games symbol of peace, hope, inclusiveness, equality, joy and fraternity”. I like that,... that appeals to me. Call me a sentimental fool, a softy, a bleeding-heart liberal for believing that. I don’t care, really. There are way too many cynics today, let’s choose to spread some positive vibes instead of fueling negativity.

Back to my date with the flame…when I learned that the Olympic flame was coming to my neighbourhood, I had no choice but to make plans to see it, n’est-ce pas? How many of us can boast of living in an Olympic host country but more than that, be privileged enough to live in a city that is part of the Olympic Torch relay? I have no idea if Canada will host another Olympics in my lifetime and even if it did, if the flame would ever walk the streets that I walk. Therefore, it was a no-brainer – we would, as a family, go be a part of this immensely special ocassion.

Supposedly, when the flame left Greece in October, it also marked the start of a new journey for the flame that would see it endure the longest national relay in Olympic history. Vanoc (Vancouver Organizing Committee) chief executive John Furlong said this when he received the flame at Panathenian Stadium, “Today we accept the Olympic flame with humility and respect and with joy. This moment marks the beginning of the Vancouver 2010 torch relay and our 106-day odyssey of hope." The torch relay through Canada this year would be a 45,000 kilometer relay that would touch all provinces and territories, through more than 1,000 communities and unbelievably, implausibly, yet remarkably, mine would be one of those communities.

On December 6th, I bundled up my whole family at 6:00pm to take a shuttle bus to a park at a nearby suburb. I even packed a few thermoses of hot chocolate! The runner scheduled for this particular leg of the flame’s journey was a high school student, something that resounded with my identity as a teacher. It was the night before the first forecasted snowstorm. So, did the frigid weather deter people from coming out to welcome this flaming symbol of hope? “Not a snowball’s chance in hell” is how one local reporter responded.

It was an inspiring evening. So many people – young, old and in between, all bundled up in winter clothing, many of them in Canadiana Olympic red apparel, the cutest were the little babies, completely wrapped from head to toe in snowsuit, cutesy toques with pom poms, red cheeks … you could see their warm breaths in the cold air. Everyone got noise makers (little tambourines), glowing Coke bottles (a sponsor), there was hot chocolate, Christmas lights, and entertainment and chit chat being conducted in the two national languages of Canada, French and English.

When the flame finally emerged, the atmosphere crescendoed to a boisterous, rousing bilingual rendition of O’ Canada. It was FANTASTIC! Everyone, of all ages and of all colours, seemed to remember all the words. We sang, with ONE voice, tinged with subtle yet undeniable Canadian pride, as the sleek cool-looking torch, designed by Bombardier engineers (Montreal company) arrived in our neighbourhood.

Seeing the bright yellow and blue flame bouncing as it moved through the crowd somehow got me choked up. I cannot explain it. I felt a whole gamut of emotions and I wasn’t even the one carrying the flame! I felt pride, awe, humility, happiness, reverence, fascination… how odd … yet completely wonderful! The icing on the cake was at the end of the evening when my kids thanked me for an exciting outing. Even they, at their young and tender age, had felt something special in the air.

Two days later, after Montreal’s first major snowstorm, I was privileged enough to see the flame again, this time in the middle of the day during school hours. I felt so blessed to have some free periods exactly during the time of the flame’s traverse near my school. This time, there were busloads of students from nearby schools lining up the street awaiting the flame. I had a fabulous front row “seat” and managed to take a video of this special moment. The feelings I had the previous night ALL returned, this time even stronger as children all around me chanted, “Canada! Canada! Canada!” Many were holding flags and posters they drew. I seriously felt the hope and pride of this adoptive nation of mine.

It was an experience that was magnificent, mind-blowing and completely awesome!

I am humbled to have had the privilege of being a part of this historic relay, not once but twice. How lucky am I? February 12th - I have another date with you, my flame, as the Winter Olympics begin. Hope to catch the live coverage of the Opening ceremonies. May these Games indeed be a symbol of "symbol of peace, hope, inclusiveness, equality, joy and fraternity"