I remember standing with one foot in Colorado and one foot in Utah when I was ten years old. My body was literally in two places, my physicality crossing borders made visible only by a sign that read “Welcome to Utah.” That same year I started training for the 2008 Olympics.
I never made a point of holding onto the memory of that place. There was no personal significance for me at the time. Neither Utah nor Colorado was home to me, and I was barely a thought when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City.
Yet the memory comes back to me every once in a while when I find myself in two places – when my body is in one place and my heart is in another, when my home is in one country, but my competitions are oceans away, when I’m studying for a math exam, but running through a routine in my head. It comes back to me every once in a while.
It comes back to me now in Beijing, at Jianfu Palace – the formal name of which literally translates to mean the Garden of the Palace of Established Happiness – while celebrating the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics at a dinner party. It comes back to me as I watch Henry Kissinger shake hands with China’s former Vice Premier Wu Yi. It comes back to me as I look at my teammate, in her formal dress, so stunningly different from the red, white, and blue warm-ups we wore earlier that day. It comes back to me as I take a glass of sparkling water, as I nod my head in acknowledgment to the Chinese server who seems so practiced, so perfect in his task; practically Olympian himself.
And as it comes back to me, I feel out of place here, but a bit like I belong more than ever before. A hazy feeling envelopes me and for a moment I lose my presence; in my head, in the enormity of it all, in the meaning and hopeful significance that I can’t even begin to grasp. And yet I try…
Jianfu Palace – the Garden of the Palace of Established Happiness. This not only translates my current place, but also the relationship between the United States and China. This is not a happiness that has come naturally. It has been established by contracts and handshakes, by money and technology, by businessmen in suits and ties. It is an established happiness, a man-made progression. It is happiness, nonetheless, and out of that happiness, eventual peace.
As I look around the room I don’t see the hardships that have been placed on these people or the weight of so much expectation on one culture. That may have defined the state of China for me yesterday, and it may still be true, but it’s not what I see today. Today I see millions of tiny olive branches forming the foundation for what’s to come. I find myself in one place and yet once again standing between two states. I find myself in Beijing, standing between happiness and peace, and I remember when I began this journey at ten, standing between Utah and Colorado.
I grab onto that hope and, this time, I make a point of holding onto the memory of this place.
© 2008 Alix Purcell
I’m not really ready to post this… but I don’t know what else to do with it :) Lol.
This was inspired by an article I read in Time by Bill Powell.