Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Praise of Weakness

On the fourth of a series of four double axels, Kurt Browning, the superstar figure skater, fell to the ice, spoiling his otherwise perfect display of athletic artistry. The crowd in the arena drew a collective breath as he bounced back onto his feet, regained his composure and skated through the remainder of his routine. But his smile was not quite as carefree as it had been earlier in the evening's show.

He was not the only one to fall in the filmed-for-television premiere of "Holiday Festival on Ice". Other stars, like double Olympic gold medalist, Katia Gordeeva, missed a jump as well. Seeing any performer stumble evokes a reaction. But when world and Olympic champion skaters fall the scene leaves you feeling anxious and tender toward them. Your heart goes out to them. "I know how you must feel" you whisper to yourself. All that skill, hours of practice, fighting through hardships and challenges, only to fall when it counts, in the final analysis, the grande finale. “Disappointed” is not a sufficient descriptor. Shaken, self-doubting, crushed or even devastated, may be better. We have all been there.

The humanity of each star who had a flawed performance became even more evident when the audience was invited to stay for the retakes that were deemed necessary for taping of the television show. Kurt managed to pull off the same three spinning jumps but noticeably injured a muscle on the fourth jump, causing the 43 year old Canadian ice star to limp off, shaking his head, frustrated with what his body told him. There was no disdain for the failures the skaters experienced. No faultfinding or blaming. Instead, it was a perfect display of how to handle our human frailty, our weakness.

"Weakness" is not an attractive word. But there can be depth in the damaged soul, breadth in the battered body, and toughness in the tested and troubled mind. Did you ever notice that we are all drawn to share our struggles, our failures and weaknesses, with those who share theirs? It seems as if we are not really attracted to the famous, the flawless and the faultless when we feel bothered, burdened, or buried.

No one aspires to fail or evidence weakness, but to deny its existence is to allow it to breed no benefits. Even though we avoid our own vulnerability, we see the value of openness in others. We often feel most human and alive when life squeezes us longer or harder than we would like. In that sense, “No pain, no gain”. After all, name one person who has impacted the world for good that has not been brought low and tasted the bitterness of pain, sadness or loss. Greatness has little use for the spoiled and self-satisfied among us. They are pretenders, posers, too 'perfect' to lead us up out of hurt and rejection. It seems we cannot rise up unless we are first bought down. Indeed, our true heroes are chosen from the humble and homely.  They are deeply admired and loved because they show us real beauty and how the basest "beast" can become the best and most "beautiful" of our race. Take last year's mega-hit "Slumdog Millionaire", or almost any classic story.

Parkinson's disease too can mold men and women into models of human perseverance. Sharing our weakness can draw others out, allowing them to be vulnerable; who they really are. Author, Dr. James Houston once said, “True friendship is based on the mutual sharing of weakness”.

Weakness compels us to realize our need for others, allows us to be cared for; be loved. No one in a suit of armor touches real life. It is the bruised and battered that that draw us like a vacuum and can give us courage to man the battlements of our own often beleaguered lives.

Out of the crucible comes wisdom. Raw intelligence can often be just a braggart or a thief masquerading as the stuff of life. But it is a beggar who finds bread who is driven to share the source with other hungry hearts; while the proud and powerful disdain the weaknesses.

Parkinson’s or flawed performances, we can all benefit by sharing our human weaknesses, using them to learn how to live with and stay fighting those we cannot yet conquer.


  1. I was having a bad day today and pulled this up from my reader. Beautifully written and so inspirational at just the right time....Thanks Charlene"Pokie Too"Pryor

  2. Charlene;

    It is inspiring to know that weakness is a path (maybe the only one) to true strength.