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CARRYING THE TORCH
By Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.
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Here is my aunt, cousin and niece blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Flames are often used to symbolize life conquering death.
The 2006 Torino Olympics is upon us. We are about to be treated to one of the world’s great rituals, the carrying of the Olympic flame. The flame is ignited at the Greek temple of Hera and is then relayed around the world by thousands of torch bearers. It will travel through every previous Olympic city and will arrive in Torino Italy on Feb 11th 2006. It will rest there for the 16 days of the Olympics and will be extinguished at the closing ceremony.
The Olympic torch relay is filled with significant symbolism. The torch relay originated in Greece 700 years before Christ. At that time fire had powerful and divine connotations in that is was a source of survival. The ancient Greeks thought fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus.
The idea of a torch or an eternal flame is still used in modern times. Birthday cakes have candles that we blow out, perhaps demonstrating our power over death. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is graced with an eternal flame. The idea of ‘carrying a torch’ was written about by the great Van Morrison to symbolize his love of a woman who had left him. In the field of poetry the concept of ‘the golden thread’ is the same where one poet will carry on the legacy of a dead poets thought.
The winning of the contract to design and produce the Olympic torch is a coveted honor that at least forty design companies compete for every two years. However I think the real symbol is not the beautiful torch but the flame itself. The flame symbolizes light in the darkness. For Olympians it symbolizes fair play, honesty and joy over corruption, cheating and destructiveness.
Recently I was asked to write a poem about the history of my very old country club. The idea of carrying a torch was in my thoughts as I researched and wrote it. I am realizing that there is value in things that are gone. In the age of post modernism and narcissism this is an odd and antiquated idea. But it is true. For my club has a history of great gentleman some of whom were presidents. There is a history of great golfers and great architects there. And there is a history of writers and poets who played at this club and who wrote about their experience. The question is how does one keep their spirit alive? How does one carry the torch for them?
Recently I lost my son so I have been consumed with the question of keeping his spirit alive somehow. After all the funeral rituals have ended and the Mass cards have been packed away how do I carry the torch for Jordan? Surely he deserves someone to do that for him but I don’t know how to do it.
I know that a torch means a light in all the darkness. The Olympic torch means a light of fairness and joy rather then cheating and violence. For my golf club it means carrying a torch of good manners, etiquette and a love for the sport of golf.
And for my son it means somehow keeping his spirit alive in me and through me. I suppose that is why I am writing this column on carrying the torch. You would have loved Jordan. He was a great surfer, great skate boarder and snow boarder. But more then that he was a kind and gentle soul. I guess I can try to keep his spirit alive by being like him, kind and gentle. Or maybe you could write in and give me an idea about how to keep a son’s memory alive and glowing in a parent’s heart. I would love to hear from you. And until then I hope you enjoy the Olympics.