By Christina Capecchi
It is nearly impossible to recognize Danny Cahill, the Oklahoma land surveyor, in NBC’s Biggest Loser. But if you look closely, you can see him in the corners of his smile and the familiar glimmer in his blue eyes — hints of the former man, eight months and 239 pounds ago.
Today the 40-year-old dad is a reality TV star, peddling an eponymous Web site and a hit single. “This is your second chance at life. Don’t you wait there for it,” he sings. “Don’t let this chance pass you by ’cause you are ready for it.”
It’s an apt soundtrack to the footage he has given us: sweating on the treadmill, crying to the camera, stepping onto the scale, pumping his fists in the air and hugging his family as confetti cascades.
“I feel like a million bucks,” Danny told Meredith Vieira the morning after his victory. By losing 55 percent of his body weight, he has gained so much: cash, celebrity, confidence and, best of all, longevity.
Danny’s extreme weight loss makes him the Biggest Loser ever, a triumph we all can get behind right now. As the century’s first decade gives way to the second, we’re feeling a heightened desire for turnaround, an itching to up the ante on our typical New Year’s resolve.
Time magazine has added to our urgency, bidding farewell, on a recent cover, to “The Decade From Hell.”
“Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post-World War II era,” Andy Serwer writes. “Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.”
The magazine’s dramatic claim is laced with the promise, a subtitle, that the next decade will be better.
As Catholics we have cause for great hope — and a myriad of turnaround tales. The lives of the saints are full of second acts and second chances: heretics and hedonists, embezzlers and extortionists, gossips and gamblers and gang leaders who turn around and do great things for the glory of God. St. Augustine stopped denouncing the church. St. Olga stopped killing. And Mary Magdalene was freed of seven demons, becoming the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection.
Our merciful God has given us the grace of the sacraments and the power of reconciliation. “As far as the East is from the West,” David the Psalmist reassures us, “so far have our sins been removed from us.”
Just as 430-pound Danny Cahill has vanished, absolution leaves no trace of our former selves.
My favorite expression of that hope for transformation comes from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”
What a sweet and simple phrase: things that have never been. Mountains that have never been climbed. Prayers that have never been uttered. Cures that have never been found. Babies that have never been born. Books that have never been written. Dreams that have never been imagined.
For as long as our history here, there is so much yet undone, waiting to be breathed and willed into life. This new decade. This new year. This new day.
Maybe it’s your turn for a turnaround.