I know the pandemic has made us all a little more _____________________ these days. Fill in your blank.
As an Italian-American, I have only one answer to that question: EMOTIONAL. No surprise. We Italians are an expressive sort, complete with lots of coordinating hand gestures. (I can still vividly picture the Italians in Lombardy in those shockingly crushing early days of the pandemic singing to one another across their balconies as their village death numbers increased exponentially. They sang each other through sorrow as the world watched. They taught us something profound.)
So, while I know the precariousness of this time pulled (and still pulls) at all my heart strings (so many losses, so much pain from isolation, so much gratitude for everyone and everything!), it surprised even me when I found myself crying at a sporting event.
As I’ve written about before, my husband and I enjoy bareboat sailing (he’s our captain and practically his own first mate, too; I’m his blissful sidekick). This is strictly a leisure pursuit — one of many outdoorsy avocations we enjoy. We’re not blue water sailors; we’re gin and tonic sailors (albeit after we’ve anchored for the day!), and we like it that way. However, we do enjoy watching the serious sailors, and every four years we pretend we’re more serious and look forward to cheering on our home team at The America’s Cup as well as all of its lead-up events from the comfort of our landlocked Colorado home. It’s a fascinating series of intense sail races with ubersophisticated boats that barely look like sailboats anymore. And, according to the event website, “it is the pinnacle of yachting, first contested in 1851, making it the oldest trophy in international sport, predating the modern Olympic Games by 45 years.”
We watched New Zealand win The America’s Cup against the U.S. in 2017. It was time for us to win it back again.
But first one has to win The Prada Cup, a series of races which determine who races against the defending champion in The America’s Cup (think playoffs to the Super Bowl). Three teams were vying for this honor: USA (with their boat called American Magic), Italy, and the U.K.
We were in the midst of watching American Magic as the sailors competed against the Italian boat called Luna Rossa. American Magic was very close to winning that particular race when an unexpected wind gust dramatically CAPSIZED the boat. It was breathtaking to watch live. The sailing vessel actually took flight, crashed and then capsized. Gratefully and miraculously, all 11 sailors were quickly accounted for and were safe. The boat was severely damaged from the crash and began taking on water. (You can see it all happen here.) And this is where I cried — for the first time. This was the end of a dream for this hard-working team.
What brought me to tears the second time was seeing all their competitors rush to help them, immediately and all through the night and then into the days to come. The U.K., New Zealand and Italy teams all offered their hands-on help and expertise. The sailing community is a tight one. Days and nights went by. The entire American Magic crew had a herculean task to determine if it was even possible to race again. New Zealand volunteered everything they had, including their boat-building facilities and expertise. Press conferences were held. The captain remained optimistic. The sailing world crossed their fingers and waited … and waited. Would American Magic be race-worthy again?
International crowds speculated and wondered and watched in great anticipation. After 11 round-the-clock, back-breaking but hopeful rebuilding days, American Magic unveiled its boat in the shipyard to proudly reveal its newly repaired hull for all to see. It was deemed an astonishing feat.
And this is where I cried for the third time. The boat’s hull — with the giant hole that was thought to be irreparable — was covered with giant Band-Aids® of their competitors’ flags and the words, THANK YOU. Those Band-Aids did me in. They hit a raw nerve. They symbolized all the deep wounds of this pandemic and just brought tears to my eyes. They symbolized all the ways we’ve needed people to tend to our wounds during this season. They symbolized all the ways good, kind and generous people showed up for us — often in surprising ways — in the midst of dealing with their very own challenges.
King Solomon famously wrote: “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 in The Message) Watching American Magic crash, capsize and then get repaired in the lead up to The America’s Cup (I won’t spoil the rest of the event for you!) prompted me to reflect on all the people who have helped me in this time, both personally and professionally. My list is long. I’m awed and humbled.
As leaders who are still standing upright after all these tumultuous months (no small feat in itself!), I believe it’s imperative that we take a moment to think back on all of our own mini or major capsizes of this past year and call to mind who helped right our boats.
Who stood by you in your fears and uncertainty? Who lent you their heart, their hands-on help, their wisdom, their listening presence? Who sang to you when you forgot your song? Who has been your Band-Aid? Who has made you sharper?
Have you said your thank-yous?
As we draw near to the one-year anniversary of this pandemic, I believe a reckoning is due. We may never pass this way again. We must thank our crew.
(I believe this year has been an important time of post-traumatic GROWTH. My previous sailing-themed article encouraged leaders to process their pandemic learnings via a series of A-Z verb-inspired questions. I recently re-asked myself those same questions and compared my answers to those earlier in the pandemic. A good exercise in itself!)