There’s an image from Friday night’s Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympics that won’t leave my head… or my heart. It’s not the amazing dancers who reenacted five thousand years of China’s history in such a colorful fashion. It’s not the breathtaking way the torch was finally lit. It’s not the parade of jubilant athletes who marched around the stadium, waving flags and smiling so brightly, they could light up the vast building with their energy.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The image that’s burned into my psyche IS that of an athlete… and a little boy who marched in at that athlete’s side. You may have seen it and been just as touched. The giant man is NBA star Yao Ming, pride of China; famous around the globe for his basketball skills. At 7’6” tall, hard to miss as he marched, dressed in a smart red jacket and white slacks that made his legs go on forever, waving his country’s flag. Then the camera pans down, way down, to the little boy jogging at Yao Ming’s side, an Olympic flag in one fist, a Chinese flag in the other. The boy looks a little overwhelmed and glances frequently up at Yao, as though for reassurance. Yao frequently glances down at the boy, as if to make sure the child is keeping up and hasn’t tripped or anything like that.
I was curious about the boy, wondering what he had done to be honored in such a way. Then the NBC announcer shed a little light on the picture. The boy’s name is Lin Hao. He’s nine years old. He was at school when that devastating earthquake struck the Sichuan province in May. Lin Hao crawled out of the rubble, then went back not once, but twice, to dig out classmates. AFTER he did that, he walked seven miles to get help. Did I mention this boy is nine years old? When asked why he did what he did, he replied simply that it was his duty, because he is a hall monitor. I am instantly smitten.
I continue to watch the Opening ceremony, hoping the cameras will cut back to little Lin Hao. I’m not disappointed. As the final dance is performed, as the torch relay reaches its breathtaking zenith, the cameras find Lin Hao again and again. By the time the Olympic flag is raised, he is ensconced comfortably in Yao Ming’s arms, which ensures an unencumbered view of the festivities. Lin seems mesmerized by the dazzling displays of light and sound. Yao seems mesmerized by Lin. The look on the athlete’s face is nothing short of tender. And I understand, because I can feel myself looking at the boy in the same way. My heart swells at the thought of all this boy has endured. I don’t even know if his family survived the quake. I sure hope they did.
As the Opening Ceremony wraps up, NBC cuts again to Yao Ming and Lin Hao and I know that whoever is calling the shots in the booth is just as smitten with this child as I am. And for one moment, I am happy to see that there’s someone else in the cold hard world of broadcast TV, whose heart can still melt at the sight of such an amazing child.
Today, I read that Lin Hao almost did not make it for the parade of athletes. Someone decided that Lin could not march with the Chinese team, because he is not an athlete! He's so much MORE than an athlete. He transcends any game. His victory-- saved lives, for goodness sake! Cooler heads finally prevailed, and Lin was ushered to Yao Ming’s side, just as the Chinese team began its march. And then little Lin marched right into the hearts of millions, maybe billions.
In an interview with an NBC reporter, Yao praised Lin’s actions, calling him a shining part of the generation that will shape China’s future. To which the little boy replied, in perfect English, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Forget about the future. I think Lin’s doing a fantastic job right here in the present.