The blackbirds of Wimbledon
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Australian John Newcombe (winner of three men's singles titles) used to say that Wimbledon is Wimbledon just because it's Wimbledon! And he's right. Wimbledon is so much more than strawberries and cream, and ivy-clad walls. It has an identity - a uniqueness - that needs no explaining.
Wimbledon brings out the best in people - on and off the court. After queuing for many hours (even overnight) for ground tickets, tennis fans are unbelievably polite and helpful to one another. Before I became a broadcaster at Wimbledon, there were no fewer than four occasions when I was given tickets by "instant friends" I had enjoyed talking to in the line.
During an early evening game on Centre Court, you can actually hear the chirruping of blackbirds (which sing like an American robin). There are moments of extraordinary stillness. Generosity of spirit and discipline are a feature of most matches. The best players thrive in that atmosphere, and so do many spectators.
Over the years, I've learned so much about self-control and calmness under pressure from champions like Swede Bjorn Borg, who won five singles titles in a row, and Brazilian Maria Bueno, who won three times. And what they showed us ranged far beyond those manicured courts in a leafy village on the outskirts of London. These were lessons for life - for all of us today.
They disputed points with no more than a shake of the head or a stroll to the umpire's chair to ask for a second opinion. They were focused, patient, and tireless. I never saw them abuse a racket or shout in anger. They practiced hard, and treated opponents, officials, and spectators with respect.
Following in their footsteps less than a month ago in Paris, Jennifer Capriati showed similar composure and grace in winning the French Open. She dropped the first set to Kim Clijsters and then stayed calm, focused, and determined until she had taken the final set 12-10 and her second Grand Slam championship in a row.
I've interviewed Jennifer many times, and I'm convinced that it was this brand of courage and determination that enabled her to come back from a brush with drugs and shoplifting to become the highly ranked player she is today.
Top players are demonstrating something I was taught at an early age but had always found hard to live up to: "A gentle [God-inspired] answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1). Gradually, I came to understand that this is a spiritual law of order, continuity, and peace - God's law - which is always available and instantly provable.
In living life each day, the person "across the net" is your sister or your brother - same family, same divine creator. And this knowledge empowers you to respond to anybody's irritableness, aggression, or gamesmanship calmly and wisely, without getting bent out of shape. It insists that anything that breeds mental disturbance calls for an adjustment in thought - usually our own.
Although I didn't always like it, I was being taught that the best way to control any reaction is by right thinking. You can't just bottle up all your feelings and put a lid on them or you'll explode.
At any moment, in any circumstance, you can expect good. You can trust in the infinite power of Truth, God, to free you from any source of frustration or discomfort.
I'm still learning how to achieve the serenity shown by many champions in tennis - and in other sports, too - but I'm practicing hard. I'm gradually getting better at putting "stop volleys" on myself and my emotions. I find that balanced, well-timed, God-controlled thought-strokes tame overreaction and exaggeration. They prevent my getting embroiled in what's not my business or in things of little real consequence. They make space for wisdom, circumspection, constructive thought - and for calm, healing responses.
Then ... I can hear the blackbirds!
Let the reign of peace
and harmony be supreme and
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor