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Miracles in wintery places
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I’m back to believing in miracles.  

My priest buddies had stolen me away from the parish to spend Thursday in Yosemite.  I’d planned to spend the day in the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel, since just 17 days before, my knee underwent arthroscopy surgery.

But as we entered the park, the magnificent panoramic view of fresh fallen snow on El Capitan, Half Dome, and the other prominent features of the Valley anesthetized any residual pain I might have been feeling.  

You might say it also anesthetized my common sense.  Before long, we four were climbing the long trail to Vernal Falls.  Fr. Mark packed in my crutches, just in case, and lent me a ski pole.  Somehow, in what seemed as miraculous as the sun-soaked day sandwiched between periods of intense rainfall, I made it to the top of the cascade without any significant pain.

Of course, getting back down would be another story altogether.  

Still, despite all forecasts to the contrary, I managed the entire hike without doing severe damage to my knee.  In fact, it suffered neither excess pain, nor undue swelling.

That primed me for more miracles that night.  Following a gourmet dinner prepared by Fr. Matthew and Fr. Peter, we sat down to the Olympics.

Watching that one night of the games left me deeply impressed.  Who could have guessed that a young man from Belarus could out-maneuver Jeret Peterson’s breath-taking Hurricane?  Who would have predicted the margin by which America’s buddies Demong and Spillane would pioneer U.S. medals on the nordic combined?  And who could have believed how Queen Kim Yu-na of South Korea would out-skate our wildest dreams?

I was fixed to the television like a fly to honey, watching that skinny kid coast and spin and dance like some angel from heaven or some goddess descended to earth.  She earned all the 228.56 points she got.   And even if America’s Mirai Nagasu actually deserved the bronze, no one could begrudge Canada’s Joannie Rochette the honor, given her mother’s tragic death only four days before, and her courageous determination to go on.

But what sticks with me, more than any of the above accomplishments, was the skating of Rachael Flatt.  When I first glimpsed her face before the long forms began, I was thoroughly unimpressed.  She was stouter, less animated, and certainly more homely than the other girls in competition.

Nothing seemed to draw me to her…until I heard that she’d been up late the night before, studying, because she felt she shouldn’t claim exceptions from the rules binding her classmates back at home.  The announcer also informed us she’d just been accepted a Stanford.   They also mentioned her rank among figure-skaters in the United States.  

But what really pinned me down was her performance.  She may have kept to a relatively conservative routine, but she didn’t make a single mistake.

She skated so competently, with such intense concentration, and then ended with such a big smile, I converted and became a great fan of hers.

It angered me that she received such a low score, in comparison to the other girls, two of whom visibly stumbled during their programs.  I know that the Japanese who followed her was much prettier.  But she didn’t skate any better, and yet was awarded sixth place, with Rachael seventh.

Other Olympic sports seem less at risk of unfair or biased scoring.  The judges of figure-skating have been more scrupulously examined following scandals in the past.  But I felt certain that Rachael hadn’t gotten her dues.

Whatever the case, history will decide.  The Korean Queen broke all records, her Japanese rival Mao Asada not too far behind, and our Canadian heroine who honored her mother.  Rachael will have another chance.    

As for me and my knee, a second chance would also come in handy.

Inspired by the series of minor miracles unfolding over the past two days, I didn’t think twice Friday afternoon about climbing up the security bars outside our catechism building’s window to get a better view of the late sunlight bathing our church’s steeple and the dazzling rainbow behind sun-drenched palm trees off in the distance.  I hadn’t seen such a pretty photo-op since arriving here at St. Mary’s over a year and a half ago.  

There, pulling myself up to a better view still, I felt something tear inside my knee.  Yes.  Having plodded through deep snow and hazardous ice up the Mist Trail in Yosemite, it seemed undignified to have undone my surgeon’s hard work climbing up the bars of that window.  Having seen Olympians putting their lives on the line for more significant reasons, I decided to keep this foolish mistake a secret forever.
We all need another miracle.