“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing.”
Well, y’all, it happened: a Super Bowl commercial finally made me cry. I don’t know if you watched Superbowl LV, but if you did, I hope you saw the Toyota Ad about Paralympian swimmer, Jessica Long. If you didn’t, please do yourselves a favor and watch it right now.
The commercial begins with a swimmer in her element. She’s floating on her back, goggling up, getting ready to take her laps, and then she’s off, and suddenly the camera is submerged and you see, underneath the water, that she has no legs.
A phone rings and it cuts to a woman being told that a baby’s been found for her by the adoption agency—a baby from Siberia with a rare condition that will mean the amputation of both her legs. “I know this is difficult to hear,” a woman’s voice says over the phone. “Her life: it won’t be easy.”
Silence, and through it all the girl swims. There she is in her crib in Siberia, and beneath her the water and her older self swimming. There she is walking on prosthetics, there she is at meet after meet, with Mrs. Long still on the phone all the while. The music plays, the audience waits with bated breath, and the woman over the phone is heard pleading quietly, “Mrs. Long?”
At last, with a radiant and hopeful smile, Mrs. Long, who sees her daughter in the distant pool, says with anticipation, “It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing. I can’t wait to meet her!”
And then Jessica turns and smiles back from the pool, as Mr. and Mrs. Long, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their new baby girl, grasp each other’s hands across the table. And the ad ends with the line: We believe there is strength and hope in all of us.
As I stood motionless in front of the television watching this on Sunday night, my eyes actually welled up with tears. I thought about the amazing gift of adoption, of families so open to parenthood in all its forms; I thought about hope. But most of all, I thought about that little girl, now an Olympic athlete and force of nature, and of the tremendous amount of faith and trust and perseverance that went into making her who she is today.
A person is not, from its very beginning, as strong or as fast or as smart or as brave as she will one day be. Abilities take much time and effort and energy to be cultivated; that is why we call them our potential, since without practice and focus, they will never come to be. And though human potential is sometimes realized and sometimes not, the capacity for it is always there, regardless of whether it ever actualizes within a person.
But there is something in each of us, regardless of what we can or cannot do, which IS there from the very beginning; something that does not change as time goes on or as we learn and grow and develop our own unique skills and habits and characteristics. This something is who we are: our personhood, our humanity, the one gift upon which all others depend.
From the moment of conception to the moment of death, each person is a whole, living, growing being, unique and bursting with potential. Toyota is right: we all have hope and strength within us. And though, at first, we are small and weak and entirely dependent upon the goodness and greatness of others, like Jessica Long, we are all destined for our own unique goodness and greatness.
When I contemplate this, my heart breaks for all those babies whose potential was never realized, whose lives were snuffed out in the womb before they ever took a breath or made a friend or painted a picture or climbed a mountain or sang a song. My heart breaks for all of the doctors and astronauts and athletes and teachers and poets and scientists that never had the chance to make their mark on the world and do what they were meant to do.
But it also leaps for joy at the thought of each and every baby for whom someone took a chance and saw beyond the challenges and struggles; who reached into the realm of possibility and thought to themselves, “It will likely be very hard, but it will definitely be amazing.”
Thank you, Mrs. Long, for your YES to Jessica’s beautiful, amazing life. And thank you, Jessica, for your courage in reaching your true potential. You both are an inspiration to all of us. May we follow their examples and fight for all the Jessica’s out there whose hopes and dreams hang in the balance as they wait for someone to lovingly take the leap.