It is the kind of thing that people expect to be the big highlight of their lives.
Carrying the torch for Canada, on Day one of the Olympic Torch Relay. Perfect Husband didn’t win an iCoke contest, he was nominated by his coworkers, for all the volunteer hours he puts in at my work place. He has slung dog food, washed dishes, hauled equipment, dressed as Santa, and helped baby sit the many canine house guests I am constantly obliged to bring home with me. His workplace, a big Olympic sponsor, covered the cost of our trip to Victoria and even gifted him with his torch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so nervous and excited. He admitted to me that he was more nervous than he had been on his wedding day. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted. He said I should feel flattered. He had felt confident about marrying me.
As I dressed him in his official Olympic garb, and as he took deep breaths trying to calm himself, many things were on our mind. Would it rain? Would I be able to get a good view of him? Would the camera capture his run properly in the dark, with a glowing flame messing with the auto-focus?
The one question we weren’t asking ourselves was “will he actually get to run?”
But that is what we should have been worrying about.
I dropped him at the Empress and stood by proudly photographing him as he talked to fellow torch bearers and officials with clipboards. I saw his shuttle pull up, ready to drop him and the other torchbearers at their assigned start points.
It was beginning to rain.
I went home, got the umbrella out of the car, and headed off on the five block walk to his end-point (I wanted to catch him running towards the camera with the flame, and then passing it on). I was laden with a video camera, a still camera, a book in my purse, an umbrella, and Timothy the travelling bear, who gets photographed on all my travels.
I arrived an hour early, so I got a hot chocolate at Starbucks and sat down nervously to wait. I kept watching the road, waiting for it to be blocked off as a parade route. But cars continued to swish up and down the rainy street in the gloaming. It was half an hour til the run was scheduled. Twenty minutes. Fifteen. People were starting to gather with their kids and umbrellas, lining the road. Parked cars still coated the edges of the street. Traffic still swooshed. If it weren’t for the increasing number of spectators, I would have been seriously concerned that I was on the wrong road.
I packed up my book and reloaded myself with cameras, rain gear and bear. I walked to the end point, where a bunch of employees from my husband’s company were handing out noise makers, flags, and pom poms. We had stopped by their workplace earlier and they recognised me now, the wife of the torchbearer. They greeted me excitedly and as we waited they offered to hold my umbrella if necessary when the big moment came. I was trying to figure out how to juggle a still camera and a camcorder, one in each hand, while Timothy clung to the straps of my purse. I played with my digital settings, trying to find a setting that could focus on the bright lights in the darkened street. I fretted that my husband would be a blur as he came by. I worried that the flame would throw everything off. It was half an hour past the time for him due to run, but I wasn’t surprised. We expected delays. When does something like this ever run on time?
We saw police up the road, and said, “finally, they’ve come to block off this part of the route!”
Then the shuttle went by and we all cheered it as it passed us. But why did it pass us? I was at my husband’s end point. He should have been dropped 300 metres up the road, and the next torch bearer should have been dropped near us. I was confused. Maybe it had been a shuttle for the previous section of bearers, heading back to The Empress?
Then a woman came by, saying “We should all head up to Dallas. They’ve been rerouted because of protesters.”
Fear struck my heart.
I followed her, calling her. “My husband is the torch bearer for this section. Do you know where they are running now?” I pleaded with my eyes. Please let me not have missed my husband’s big moment. Please.
“I don’t know,” said the lady, “I just heard they got rerouted. They’ve already gone by, I think.”
‘Oh God,” I said, voice quivering, “I’ve missed it. I’ve missed it!”
I began to run. People were already dispersing. Adults looked disgruntled. Dampened children in rain coats looked upset and confused. Where was the torch they had been waiting for so long to see? Their parents had told them it would be a moment they would remember all their lives. So where was it?
I begged people for information, but no one knew anything. I couldn’t even call him. They hadn’t let him carry any personal items onto the shuttle. No cell phone. It was the first time in years that I hadn’t been able to get a message to my husband instantly with the touch of a button. We text all day long. Now my phone was buzzing. I answered it desperately. Too late. I called the number back instantly and got a voice mail. “You have reached the shuttle…” I left a desperate message, begging for information.
My phone began to buzz again moments later. It was my husband, sounding stressed and weary. He didn’t know where they were going. He hadn’t run anywhere yet. The official message for family members was to stay put until things were sorted out. He would let me know when there was news. I returned to my post, and filled in the anxious members of his company.
The protesters were coming by. Waving a multitude of signs, ranging from elitism to native land issues to complaints about HST, they had no unified message. They banged on loud drums, and some were dressed as zombies. They won no sympathizers. The cold wet members of the public had been waiting with their children for this one big moment, the one free moment of the Olympic Games, and this loud, scary crowd had robbed them of it.
People booed as they passed, and I thought “how stupid.” My Psych-degree sensibilities were offended by this group’s poor judgement. The only way that protesters can bring about the change they desire is by winning sympathizers. Once you convince enough people that women deserve votes, that everyone deserves health care, that gay people should marry, the change you desire can be brought about. You cannot win people’s votes and sway their opinion by ruining their fun. By hurting the little people. By disappointing children and average joes who had won the opportunity of participating in something amazing.
You want to win people’s sympathies and get attention? You quietly line the route with signs. As you wait for the torch, you talk to the people around you, make your arguments, get some people to say “I never thought of that…” Then, when the torch goes by, you wave your sign, and get it photographed by the media. There’s your media exposure. No one is angry with you. No one is hurt by your efforts to make your opinion known. You gain sympathizers who respect your professional attitude.
None of this Victoria crowd seemed to respect the frightening mob, nor to be at all interested in their opinions. They had hurt children, and won nothing.
People were beginning to disperse. I was near tears. What was happening? My phone buzzed. I answered it. Perfect Husband sounded rushed, even more stressed. “We’re at the Terry Fox Memorial,” he told me. “They’re planning some kind of lighting ceremony. I don’t know if you will be able to make it. Do what you can.”
I had no idea where to go, but a couple of people from his company jumped to the rescue. Going at a run, I was led through darkened streets and along a large, dark park. My legs burned. My chest, still recovering from my cold, was tight and I coughed harsh, racking coughs. When I could run no more, a lady ran ahead of me to see if she could see the torch bearers. Desperate and plodding as quickly as I could, I and my other companion arrived at the site… and everyone was leaving. We passed person after person walking away. Large, brightly lit Coke trucks with glowing neon olympic rings on theirs sides were pulling away from the curb. It was dark, and crowded, and wet, and confused. My companion and I couldn’t find the lady who had led us there. My phone buzzed.
“I’m here, I’m here,”I said to the phone. My husband sounded tired.
“It’s over,” he said, “I’m back on the shuttle. I’ll… I’ll meet you back at the Empress, I guess.”
“I tried,” I said, my throat catching. My husband had held the Olympic flame, and I hadn’t been there to see it.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “I have to go. Other people need this phone.”
My companion, who had promised a friend of hers in Japan that she would photograph the torch, offered to lead me back to the Empress. I had no idea where I was. I was pathetically grateful, and struggling to hold back my tears. My companion and I verbally abused the protesters, and how they had managed to hurt so many members of the every-day public. And for what?
At the Empress I found more confused family members. An angry wife and her confused little boy, who wanted to know why Daddy hadn’t gone by with the flame. A worried mother, whose 14 year old daughter had been practising her torch run for months, and whose outfit she had tailored to perfection. We stood for half an hour in the rain, worrying, ranting.
“How can I explain this to my son?” asked the wife next to me. “When he gets angry and tries to throw things or hit me I tell him, “you have a right to be angry. It is okay to tell me how you feel. But it is not okay to hurt other people while you do it.” How can I explain to him that these people had less control than an eight year old child?”
“My daughter is just a girl who won a contest,” said the mother. “She isn’t a member of the government taking native land, or raising taxes. It isn’t her fault that the Olympics has come to Canada. She’s just a girl, who got a once in a lifetime opportunity, and she was robbed of it by these people. She’ll be disappointed and hurt forever over this. How is that right? Why did these people want to hurt my child?””
“My brother flew all the way from Toronto to see this moment,” said someone else, “his money is spent, and now wasted. What good does that do anyone?”
Word on the street was that the shuttle was delayed, had been mobbed and stopped by the protesters only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Finally it arrived. The big ceremonies on the stage at Parliament were almost finished, but we had missed it all, huddled in the rain and worrying about the people we loved. My husband didn’t want to talk about it. What was done was done. They had all stood in a line, and one by one the Olympic flame continued along the line. The other torchbearers had picked up the run from there. The protesters had not caught the flame. It blazed on. And only a handful of 10 people, disappointed members of the public, had lost their chance to jog down the road bearing it proudly.
My husband’s torch sported the soot of the Olympic flame. He may not have carried the flame, but he had passed it on. We were mobbed for over an hour by excited people wanting their photo with him, wanting to touch the torch, awed by the soot. I stood by the side lines while a line-up of people waited to get their photo taken with my husband, asking him questions which he nimbly dodged. Now was not the moment to be pitied. I could have stood there forever, beaming proudly. How many hours has my husband spent standing by while people asked me questions about the dog that I had to drag with me to the grocery store, the movies, his own workplace? He deserved this moment of glory, perhaps even more so than the people who had gotten to do their run.
He was still a torchbearer.
Back home, friends and family launched a search to find photos of my husband with the flame. They found two, one showing his face. I emailed the newspaper, thanking them for the photo, explaining that it was all I had. They emailed me back with sympathy, and sent me a high resulution copy.
Thanks to the Victoria Times Colonist and their photographer for this photo, which I claim no rights to, except the right to feel proud.