While I work on my book, Brian often watches documentaries -- many of which are about something to do with sports. Last week he started to watch Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. Little can distract me while I work on my book but that documentary proved to be one thing that could. About 20 minutes into the film, I gave up trying to focus on my book and over the course of a few evenings, Brian and I finished watching the film.
I still can't fully articulate my reaction to the documentary, although I am clear about a few emotions that surfaced in me after I learned more about Lance Armstrong. Those include utter disappointment, anger, and frustration. In fact, there was some archival footage of Lance Armstrong that made me want to throw something at his disgustingly arrogant talking head.
There is so much about the Lance Armstrong story that frustrates and upsets me including the brazen lies, the win-at-any-cost attitude towards sport, and the way that he destroyed (or tried to destroy) anyone who questioned him. But the parts that hurt me most were those that involved Lance Armstrong's references to himself as someone who gives cancer patients hope. It feels like pure betrayal.
Anyone who has followed the Facebook page of my book knows that I have been more than a bit focused on the concept of hope lately. The book's title (Hope Is a Good Breakfast) lead me to wonder about how others conceive of this most important gift and so I've gathered many perspectives on the question. I have been floored by the responses received from so many different people including former students, friends with metastatic disease, professional athletes, Emmy-winning journalists, and brave men who lost multiple family members in Hurricane Katrina. These responses have made me smile and cry, and feel more inspired than ever before. They have been heartfelt and honest. They have been everything that Lance Armstrong is not.
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This morning on the train I happened to reach the chapter of my book that describes why I still wear my yellow Live Strong bracelet despite my disgust with Lance Armstrong. That chapter was born from a blog I wrote on the subject in October 2012. I couldn't help but notice the huge irony in the fact that just this morning, I had taken my bracelet off for the first time since just before I wrote that blog.
Taking my bracelet off now didn't mean that I had left the Live Strong message behind because this past Christmas, my sister gave me a beautitful bracelet engraved with "Live Strong." I've worn her gift ever since, but I wasn't ready to let go of the yellow rubber bracelet until this morning.
I have to admit that Stop at Nothing made me so disgusted with Lance Armstrong that even the explanation I provide in that earlier blog and in my book about what the yellow bracelet means to me can't separate me enough from the fact that it was Lance Armstrong who made that bracelet popular enough that I found it.
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I've written before about the work I do to help people obtain asylum in the United States. I am working on two such cases now, with one that will go before the immigration court in just a few weeks. Like all of my prior clients, this one (who I will call "Ella") has been through hell. If sent back to her home country, there's a very good chance that she would be seriously harmed or even killed.
Last week I sat with Ella over a burrito after an intense meeting during which my fantastic colleague and I prepared her for the upcoming hearing. I had been waiting for the right moment to give her a gift and I had finally found it. So I handed Ella her very own Live Strong bracelet.
Ella didn't know any background on the bracelet so I told her a little bit about what those two words meant to me (I didn't even need to mention cancer). She loved the bracelet and the meeting we had a week later was one of our very best. Ella was stronger than I had ever seen her and afterward when I asked her half-jokingly what had gotten into her, she explained with a smile, "I moost leev st-rong," she explained, so truly proud of herself.
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I'm in the proofing stage of the book and so I wonder if I should even bother revising the whole chapter about the yellow bracelet based on a development from this week. I think I just may have to leave that discussion for the sequel.
In the meantime, I'm blessed to be able to turn back to this space for some respite. For some venting about Lance and some reflection on Ella.
In the end, I finally may be done with my own yellow bracelet. Thanks to my sister, I have the Live Strong message tangibly with me even when I ditch that piece of plastic. Still, I have to find a way to make peace with the frustration and disappointment that rises up in me when I think of what Lance Armstrong did to so many people, including his teammates, investigative journalists, young athletes, and cancer patients. I have to find a way to fully separate Lance Armstrong from two words that mean so much to me. I wasn't sure I could do it until I wrote this post and more importantly, until Ella found her way into it. Because Ella doesn't know a thing about Lance Armstrong and perhaps never will. Yet those two words gave her the courage to recall and explain some of the worst experiences of her life with strength and clarity that I had never before seen in her. And so I stumble upon some clarity that I never expected to find by drafting a short post about a documentary I just watched. That clarity is born from that fact that although Ella's body is scarred, distorted, and wracked by constant pain due to the hell she has endured, she has lived and will continue to live stronger than Lance Armstrong ever has, or likely ever will.