I read something recently that argued that it is harder to write hope than it is to write cynicism. I think that’s probably true. Likewise, I think that it’s easier to be cynical than to be hopeful. Showing hope somehow exposes us, lays bare our dreams and aspirations, amkes us vulnerable.
This is why I think symbols are important. I doubt you’d find a writer who disagrees. After all, isn’t everything we create some form of symbolism?
There are many fine and justified arguments against the Olympics: we can’t afford it, it doesn’t benefit local communities. Like many others I get incensed when I see missiles being deployed on top of people’s homes or all the fast food sponsorship (except Cadbury’s. I will not have a word said against them, om nom nom). But setting all that aside, on a purely symbolic level, I’m all for the ideal and symbolism of the Olympics.
So whilst many co-workers and friends turned their noses up at the chance to see the Olympic torch, I decided I wanted to go. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever see it again: that symbol of hope and greatness to so many athletes. But still in the wake of so many people’s cynicism I found myself questioning my decision.
I’m glad I went. I turned up early to get a good spot but there was already a large number of people there; mostly families with children. Slowly the side of the road started to fill up as more people arrived. With them came the flag and whistle sellers. Parents got a financial reprieve when one of the sponsors pulled up in the layby and gave all the kids free blow up sticks that gave a surprising metallic noise when bashed together. Most burst long before the torch arrived.
The traffic was slowed down and people were allowed to stand on the middle reservation, something I did due to it providing a better view up the road. Traffic went from a slow stream, to a dribble to the occasional vehicle.
And then, like a circus rolling into town the relay arrived.
Police motorcycles and squad cars arrived first, the riders high fiving the kids as they rode past, the police car sounding its siren to the delighted squeals of the kids. Then came the sponsors in their carnival vehicles with people dancing and cheering like some warm up act.
Next it was push bikes with police in the now famous grey running uniform. They high fived the kids as the first of the vehicles came through in the distinctive white and yellow torch relay livery. They seemed to go on forever, the body of some giant worm weaving its way into town. Everyone bibbed and waved, all and sundry knowing that the torch was coming, the excitement forming into something so overwhelming you felt you could reach out and touch it.
And then there it was. A man in white running with his symbol of gold, waving to everyone, enjoying his moment as his grey entourage scoured the crowd for trouble. He made his way down the road and with that he was past and with him the final coach, the tail in this giant beast.
And then it was over. A multitude of local kids on bikes rode behind the coach, an epilogue to the carnival, as people started to disperse, either to follow the convoy down the road, or content that they had achieved what they’d come out to see and were ready to head home.
Yet, leaving there, you couldn’t help feeling like you’d been a small part of history, generations telling of the time the Olympic torch came to town. As you walked back to your car, you also couldn’t help but think of the athletes and their will and determination, and with it, a little of your own hopes and dreams as well.