Look at an embellished crown, however gaudy—there is always one particular jewel that catches the light, now and again, so as to shine out more than the others. Of course all jewels possess the ostentation of simplicity; but it is not till the creator saw fit to give us a really glaring example of simplicity that the material world would really noticed what a wonderful thing it is—in our case, the simplicity of the heart in the figure-skating of Julia in this jaded figure skating world. In a curious way, you can see the same child-like quality of Julia in that very jaded figure skating world if you consider its fondness for make-believe; of course for the jaded figure skating world, the make-believe is preferably outward—that is, it is of the projecting variety. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, you remember, when she was encouraging her novices to pray for the conversion of sinners, told them to think of those souls as a set of ninepins to be knocked down; she was always indulging in fantasies of that kind, so was St. Francis. When he felt tempted, one extremely cold night, to regret his vows, he got up out of bed, and went out into the snow just as he was, and made a snow-woman and six snow-children; and he pretended that they were his family. “There,” he said to himself—for he talked to himself, as all children do—“these must all be clothed; see, poor things, they are dying of cold; here there will be all kinds of trouble.” When you read stories like that and compare them to the figure-skating of Julia, you realize that it is not a very long way from the Little Flowers of St. Francis and St. Therese to the Little Flower of figure skating.
It is, perhaps, rash and self-serving to venture on explanations on the plenitude of grace which overshadowed and transformed the figure-skating of Julia as to make the patrons of the satiated world of figure skating become aware of it. Here is where an intermediary may come in. For man is made of body and soul, body as well as soul *must* take part in his self-dedication to art or craft. Material edifices, of outward gestures, and skate and music, must be the complement and the expression of his inward attitude; otherwise, they are just mere show items. For instance, when God issued to Moses his moral law, or when our Lady preached to Bernadette of Lourdes her gospel of penance, in all the grandeur of austerity, they enlisted material things in the service of a spiritual ideal. That is the very essence of the figure-skating of Julia.
As with painting, the office of figure skating seems to be merely initial, but the best pictures and skates can easily tell us their last secret; the best pictures and skates are rude draughts of a few of the miraculous dots and lines and dyes which make up the ever-changing “landscapes (with figures)” amidst which we mostly dwelt in this world. As such, painting and figure skating seem to be to the eye what dancing is to the limbs. When Julia has educated the figure-skating frame to self-possession, to nimbleness, to grace, the steps of the dancing-master are better forgotten; so the figure-skating of Julia teaches the splendor of color and the expression of form through regiment, yet from the freedom of spirit, and as I see the figure-skating and genius of Julia in this art form, I see the boundless opulence in painting, the indifference in which the painter stands free to choose out of the possible forms—as no mere mannerist can make these diverse, single figures from an uncouth spirit. Behind them is a kind of cogent sympathy, and in its figurehead, Julia, for whom Maturity tends to be only a totem, one sees tension and fear or the bravado of insecurity (i.e., discovery), and not paltry sentimentality. The style of gesture of Julia, the technical proficiency, the manner of presentation on the ice—you realize that Julia is not just a mere model for figure skating, Julia is a vision of it.
An artist must have at least two brushes: the first, which is the more useful, gives the ground tints and rapidly covers the whole canvas; the other, a small one, is employed for the details of the picture. If you will put on one side the modesty of this expression, Julia’s presentation of flexibility is the former, and her subtlety in accents is the latter. The subtlety in her accents on the ice is the small brush; this works consists in etching in, while very dramatically, all the little daily details of the simplicity of heart with enormous care, not unlike one of the pre-Raphaelite painters, drawing every leaf and every stone with minute precision. Whereas Julia’s presentation of flexibility resorts to the impressionistic side; it gets its effects with broad sweeps of the brush: its ideas are big enough to live in the open air, while compact enough to reach out into the ether.
The figure-skating of Julia is about making the best of the little world we all live in, as a child will make the best of staying indoors when it becomes clear that the rain is not going to stop. By Julia’s power of make-believe—and what it made her believe was no more than the truth—she would turn her figure-skating and the little opportunities it had given, and is giving, into a glorious mission for simplifying the heart. Now, what is this gift of simplicity, which we admire so much in children? because it is natural. Do let us get rid at once of that favorite mistake: supposing that to be simple means to be ignorant. You see, there is only one Being who is absolutely simple; that is almighty God, and he knows everything. No, to be simple is to see things with the eye of God, that is, to see them as they really are, without the trimmings. To be able to distinguish what is important from what is incidental and doesn’t matter; to get down to the broad, primary truths, and forget what is merely conventional. And Julia is that to this jaded figure skating world. God, your soul, eternity, sin, judgment, those are the essentials; and the simplicity of a Julia is to distinguish those facts all the time, without effort, from the unessential facts that do not matter, although human vanity and snobbishness and worldliness of the jaded figure skating world think they do (e.g., with buzz words/phrases like “artistry,” “musicality,” “projecting to the audience” etc. etc.). The world is very old nowadays, and we are all very grown-up; you can grab the wisdom of the ages on a pamphlet or rule book. All these dubious conventions of a civilization—but can we look back at the age of St. Therese of Lisieux without feeling something of regret of our own childhood, something of that twinge which comes to us when we see, in the house where we were brought up, the familiar passage that leads to the nursery door? If the figure-skating of Julia has taught us anything, it is this: Let’s be wise according to our opportunities, to be ourselves, to laugh at shams and see things as they are.
Julia was sent to a world in bondage, and to a figure skating world which rejoiced in its bondage. And its presence of material plenty had given rise to a general spirit of materialism; a spirit which loves the good things of this life and is content with the good things of this life, does not know how to enlarge its horizons and think about eternity. She was sent to deliver us from that captivity of thought; to make us forget the idols of Maturity. She could not wring tears, even so, from the hearts of a stubborn bunch. Surely, so many years will pass, and do we still come away from Julia’s Sochi arc dry-eyed?