LONDON — Every four years, some of us who type for a living lose about three weeks of our lives to gain a lifetime of experiences. It is called the Olympic Games.
In those weeks, it is easy to be cynical and soppy, all in the same five minutes. It is 17 days of watching septuagenarians hang medals around necks and kiss cheeks. You roll your eyes. It is also 17 days of watching athletes achieve and become puddles of joy. You join the slobber.
Athletes arrive with great hope and some leave with great glory. The rest depart without hardware, but with pride of accomplishment that grows over a lifetime every time they can say, "I was an Olympian." The winning never loses its glamour. The very participation gains stature with time.
This typing is being done Sunday night in a high seat in London's Olympic Stadium. The closing ceremony will be for the 80,000 people here, and, as we are repeatedly told by the warmup announcer, "300 million people on television around the world." It is a Hollywood extravaganza on steroids, all of Mardi Gras in one night. At one point, the program promises, "We will rock you." And it does.
The working class of London shares the limelight with rock stars and Winston Churchill. They shoot a guy out of a cannon and he lives. George Michael, the Who and Annie Lennox sing. The Spice Girls are, well, the Spice Girls. It is a wonderful, captivating musical show. People who can envision and produce something of this magnitude should be given everlasting life. That way, we'd still have David Wolper.
As sounds fill the warm August night, the mind wonders.
It wonders whether Fallon Hawthorne is still around, if she is one of the "300 million people" watching. She was 14 and with her mother, 44-year-old Alice Hawthorne, that night 16 years ago, when the bomb went off in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Alice died and Fallon was badly injured. Can the joy of an Olympic celebration bring joy to Fallon as it does the rest of us?
Does Zola Budd, at home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., bristle at clips of U.S. runner Morgan Uceny, tripping in the 1,500 here, as announcers liken it to when Mary Decker and Budd "collided" in 1984. Decker stepped on the back of Budd's foot, but history has made it a "collision." Can Budd shrug that off and enjoy the magical night with us?
Has little Henry Caplan become a legend in his own neighborhood here? Are kids on the block in awe that he got Olympic hero Andy Murray to hug him during his gold-medal celebration a week ago at Wimbledon?
Did people catch the Usain Bolt moment like former marathon champion Frank Shorter did? Some of Bolt's post-race preening has been criticized, but Shorter noticed Bolt asking a TV interviewer to pause. The U.S. national anthem was playing in the background for another athlete and event. "A little thing like that reveals the person," Shorter says.
Will Ireland's Katie Taylor ever quite comprehend how her life has changed? With half of Ireland in the arena, she boxed her way to a gold medal in the first-ever women's Olympic boxing event. That was Thursday. Sunday night, she is one of five athletes selected to stand in the center of this all in a ceremony thanking volunteers. What is the distance from Bray, Wicklow County, to the center of 80,000 people and 300 million TV viewers?
How nice that the Olympics didn't have a leg to stand on when objections were made to Oscar Pistorius' fiber running legs? He had no chance to win and every chance to inspire. Which he did.
And could it be that, somewhere on the floor of this gigantic stadium, in a night of sights and sounds and magic never to be forgotten, stood an Australian athlete named Lilly. In Sydney, 12 years ago, she sat with her family on a train, en route to the Olympics. She was maybe 10. For her, they created the phrase "cute as a bug."
Her parents had saved for two years so the family could see the Olympics. They were at the end of a four-hour train ride and would return that night because it was too expensive to stay. Lilly held her ticket to the Games firmly in her hand. She said someday, she would be in the Olympics.
On the oft chance she was amid these London athletes, she heard John Lennon, brought back on film, sing the perfect Olympic lyrics: "You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."