Bereshit, 5773 — Live Like Lance

14/10/2012 at 09:47 1 comment

“Live Like Lance”


Parashat Bereshit

Neil F. Blumofe

13 October 2012


It’s been a week of trial and gloom not only for those who are linked to professional cycling, but too for all of us who hold fast to a belief in integrity and who cherish a hope that somewhere there exists a realm where cheating and corner cutting don’t support achievement.  To many, especially in Austin, the home of the Livestrong Foundation, Lance Armstrong represented someone different – a survivor of cancer who redefined a sport as he popularized it.  He was a tall man of talent who inspired each of us to go further than we planned – to take our limitations as a starting point, and not as an end.  A few years ago, especially cycling around downtown and the lake, one would find tributes to Lance spray painted on the concrete and often on your way, you would be greeted with the playful shout, “Go Lance, Go” – a good-natured teasing for those of us obviously not in competition mode, yet too, words of support and solidarity that represented something more, and by linking the experience of one who is biking recreationally with the one who represented the highest level of cycling’s grueling demands, there was a connection offered that was inspiring, sophisticated, and cheerful, for all involved – the chant, “Go Lance, Go” offered to any cyclist passing by as if saying, here too now rides a hero in our midst.


Yet, as we are forced to rethink Tour de France rides long past as Armstrong’s seven titles have been disallowed, and the future of the sport that is implicated and indicted as it has seemed to admit, or at least for decades, look the other way, past common doping violations, we continue to identify with Armstrong in powerful ways – knowing that within each of us prowls the yetzer hara, the drive that conducts us towards satisfaction and pleasure, and if unchecked, can lead to our destruction and our perdition.  As we study the beginning of the Torah again, we recognize that to exist inside and outside of the Garden of Eden are distinct and real places – and even for a moment to defy our exile, we strive to find our way back to paradise.


Jewish tradition teaches that in the Garden of Eden, the yetzer hara was the snake itself – detached from the human form, which tempted Adam and Eve to go beyond the boundaries of their world – entreating them to besmirch their limits and good sense in pursuit of something that shines, suddenly.  The snake, the yetzer hara, guided Adam and Eve to add banned substances to their strictly human struggle – substances that gave them additional insights and with these new abilities, doping in the Garden of Eden, allowed them to transcend the Garden, itself.


Paradise became a bit smaller and tawdry in the glittering lights of enhanced ability.  Ambition became outsized.  Goal setting exceeded the capacity of the place.  God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, into a new land that could manage such boosted aspirations – it is in exile that doping to enhance performance can exist – not in the rarified confines of the Garden. Yet, the snake went with the departed couple out of the Garden, as part of the forbidden fruit.  We, the legacy of these choices executed at the beginning of human existence, continue to have the snake lie in wait within each of us, intensifying the complex and multifaceted character that we each possess.  We too, within the parameters our own abilities are simultaneously heroes and antiheroes – we are living just outside of paradise, each of us at once, Cain and Abel, perhaps and often, our own worst enemy.  Our temptations are intact, outside the Garden of Eden, in a culture that gives them a place to thrive.


Once we acknowledge our capacity for both good and evil, how do we manage it?  How do we keep our inner snake in check?  With unfolding allegations that implicate professional cycling itself, how do we find ways to accept this information and continue to support those who devote their lives to it, while we still try to live within its system – and like most of us, if it’s not professional cycling that calls us to account, perhaps it’s the abuses on Wall Street and the ethics of our investments in our portfolios, or if even that doesn’t move you, even closer to home it’s the products and companies that we choose to support when we purchase things in the marketplace.  Where does our money really go?  Who suffers in the fabrication of our pleasure?


Halo im teitiv s’eit v’im lo teitiv lapetach hatat roveitz v’eilecha t’shukato v’atah timshol bo – surely if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven.  However, if you do not improve yourself, sin crouches at the door, leaning in to you with its desire – yet you can still conquer it (Genesis 4:7).  So, perhaps we find ourselves not in the whirlwind of endlessly craving paradise, rather we find ourselves in the circumstances of Job, looking to adapt and survive in a cruel and unfair world, where after heartbreak,  even basic aspirations are suspect.  How can we limit our impact as convenient liars and daily tyrants?


What is significant about the plight of Lance Armstrong is the good work that has come out of his success. The manifesto of the Lance Armstrong Foundation begins: We believe in life.  Your life.  We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being.  And that you must not let cancer take control of it.  We believe in energy: channeled and fierce.  We believe in focus: getting smart and living strong.  Unity is strength.  Knowledge is power.  Attitude is everything.  This is LIVESTRONG.


We kick in the moment you’re diagnosed.  We help you accept the tears.  Acknowledge the rage.  We believe in your right to live without pain.  We believe in information.  Not pity.  And in straight, open talk about cancer.  With husbands, wives, and partners.  With kids, friends, and neighbors.  Your healthcare team.  And the people you live with, work with, cry and laugh with.  This is no time to pull punches.  You’re in the fight of your life…This is LIVESTRONG.  Founded and inspired by Lance Armstrong, one of the toughest cancer survivors on the planet.


Do these most recently allegations, cheapen the great success of the Lance Armstrong Foundation?  Is its very existence bankrupt, or must we look past the suspected sins of its founder and find security and recompense that this organization does good work, despite him?  Can Lance Armstrong still be the face, the name, and the brand, of such an inspiring organization – or should this association dissolve and like a phoenix, spring up with another unsullied celebrity, if possible?  We acknowledge to a certain degree, Lance’s story is also our story – how do we build paradise while living in exile?  How do we make peace with our competing inclinations?  To whom may we listen who will not cause us harm?  We know that we can no more destroy the snake than ignore its incessant hiss.  How to navigate our nature is a main task of our life – as we make the journey again this year, finding ourselves present in the Garden of Eden as the story begins and then rapidly leaving it, along with Adam and Eve, to embark on our life’s work: to master perspective, to refrain from brash impulsiveness, or feeding our raw desires – to find a place of peace after our fall, cultivating discernment in each of the little decisions that we make which accrue, and thus determine our very life’s work.


As Bill Strickland, a friend of Lance’s, wrote this week in Bicycling magazine:


I thought I’d stop being a fan, hate him too much to appreciate him. That’s what we’re told, that we must either admire him or alternately despise and pity him. And I do: I admire him and despise him and pity him—for the years of lying as much as the cheating—and I’m enraged and morose, and I think he owes us something and he should just disappear, and I could keep going like this and some days have. Can you imagine that? A 46-year-old guy all twisted up because of the ugly way a cyclist did beautiful things on a bike?


I don’t know how you’ll feel. I don’t know, if you’re not already there, what might lead you to believe that Lance Armstrong doped. It wasn’t Floyd Landis for me, or the federal investigation, or any public revelation. My catalyst was another one of those statements that was never said by someone I never talked with. It was not from one of Armstrong’s opponents. It was not from anyone who will gain any clemency by affirming it under oath.  It was an admission that doping had occurred, one disguised so it could assume innocence but unmistakable to me in meaning. The moment I received it, it felt strangely like a relief, and after all these years unreal and apart from what was happening, like those odd instants that sometimes immediately follow the death of someone you love, when grief is eclipsed by gratitude that the suffering has ended.


And we continue, past all of it, including the silence, to build again past a wrecked world, to find renewed hope, holding both good and evil as true and present in our character and as we continue to live, not condemning or blaming all of this on the actions of one man — cutting our ties to him and what he represents and then moving on, which is too simple and fallacious and by doing so ignores core issues of complicity.  What lies do we keep and disguise as rationale?  Rather the task in front of us is to find a way to teach our children and remind ourselves that integrity is to be valued and sacrificed for, despite the weakness and the flaws of our heroes or our own coarser natures – that integrity has meaning, despite the contradictory signals that we get, and the rewards that we are promised, on the ledge of the world that we all narrowly inhabit.


Shabbat Shalom.




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YOM KIPPUR — YIZKOR, 5773 — THE GATES OF ATONEMENT Noach, 5773 — Out of the Window

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. winegarten  |  14/10/2012 at 15:39

    Such an interesting reflection. I know I cheered and cheered as Lance did the seeming impossible, and continued to believe his innocence as he proclaimed it, time after time after time. As someone who has themselves done things in my past I’d just as soon forget and hope doesn’t diminish the things I do in the present, I find myself sending compassion his way and at the same time, hoping he’ll find a way to make amends and apologize. I think that will make him more human and vulnerable and help repair the damage this current course does.

    I think it’s particularly difficult to be a public figure in the limelight, as things like this occur, we watch the media frenzy feed on the betrayals. I’m thinking of Tiger Woods and how difficult it was and continues to be for him to take responsibility for his actions and rebuild the trust he damaged. Trust can be rebuilt, but not overnight and not with shortcuts.

    As I seek to repair damage I’ve done on my relationships over the years, I find comfort that for the most part, these are personal and private, not public damages, and that usually one-on-one. And while not everyone forgives me for opening my mouth, inserting my foot, and chewing, which is usually the form my transgressions take, either orally or via electronic communications, I find that humans have a huge capacity for forgiveness. However, as we learn on Yom Kippur, amends do need to be made. It will be interesting to see what Lance Armstrong does to address all this, or if he will remain silent. Only time will tell.


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