I've been playing a lot of tennis lately with the kids. Out on the courts, swinging our rackets wildly, hoping that a few shots will land on the other side of the net, but not the other side of the fence. We have a lot of fun out there together. A lot of fun.
Yesterday morning, Daniel and I went out and played for a while. Early in the morning. Sun shining. Birds singing. Trees abuzz with bees and squirrels and other forms of life. When I arrived, my mind wasn't singing. My heart was abuzz with anger, self-pity, and disappointment. The usual stuff of life that sometimes forms the perfect brain freeze in my head.
As I swung my racket wildly, mostly trying to bat away the thoughts of malice and planned wrongdoing, it hit me: "Gail, you are outside on a sunny Charlotte morning, playing tennis with your son. You aren't sitting in traffic or working a dead-end job. You have a family that (sometimes appears to) love you. You are in good health. And you have a faith that is supposed to carry you through these times. So what is your problem?" Almost instantly, I began to look at the trees, the Carolina blue sky, my son, and myself differently. An added bonus was that I began to play better tennis. Right then and there. Hmmm...
So what did I learn on that tennis court yesterday morning?
1. Sometimes tennis is played one-on-one and sometimes in doubles. Who is my opponent and who is my partner? It seems that my partners and my opponents sometimes change places. Sometimes the match feels very lonely, even when I ostensibly have a partner on my side of the net. Play on, Gail. Play on.
2. Some days I play better than other days. A bad day on the court doesn't make me a bad person. A bad day off the court doesn't make me a bad person. A bad day on or off the court cannot negate all - or any - of the many great days I have had.
3. With every swing of the racket, there is a lot to remember. Hold the racket correctly. Pull it back by the time the ball is crossing the net in my direction. Always be ready to make adjustments with my feet. Watch the ball all the way to the racket. Extend my arms fully. Swing hard and follow through. Bend my knees.
3b. The longer and lower I keep my knees bent, the better my shots. The longer and lower I keep my knees ben, in prayer that is, the better my life.
4. Hit the ball to the best of my ability every time. Hit it as deep into the far court as possible. Every shot. Every day. Not every shot will land where I want it to. Although the outcome is not always under my control, but my job is to hit the ball as well as I can. To live as well as I can. To love, to laugh, to cry, to pick myself up when I fall and when I fail, and to live as fully and honestly as I can.
5. Don't think about the next shot or the last shot. Don't think about how well I played yesterday or even earlier today. Focus on this shot, this moment, right here and right now.
6. I must learn to give up on trying to control my partner and my opponent. I have control over no one else on the court. I barely have control over myself. Release each of my playmates to play the game their own way, to live their lives as they see fit. Love them. Support and encourage them, but release them to live the life each of them is meant to live.
7. It's okay to scream sometimes. At myself, never at anyone else. Yell. Pump my fists. Stomp my feet. And then get on with the game.
8. It's okay to hit the ball out of bounds and even over the fence sometimes. No one is perfect. Contrary to what I believed when I began taking tennis lessons three summers ago, I now admit that I'm not ever going to play at Wimbledon. I have decided that the goal on the tennis court is to just have fun. Right here and right now. Every once in a while, hit a wild shot on purpose. Just for the heck of it. Just to get out a little frustration.
9. Sometimes I suck at tennis. I can practice and practice, think about every pointer my coach has ever given me, and still I miss shots that I shouldn't miss. I dump balls into the net for no reason whatsoever. I hit shots that were on their way out of bounds, shots I should have left alone. Sometimes I'm just not that good at tennis - or marriage or motherhood or life. For better or for worse, there are very few games that I am playing at the moment in my life that I can quit. So suck if you have to, Gail, but play on.
10. Sometimes at the end of the match, at the end of the day, I need to sit down and have a good cry. To tell someone how poorly I played. To garner a little sympathy and have a little pity party. (Yesterday I reached out to a couple of people in the middle of the day; thanks for your support and encouragement to stay strong. Your words mean more than you know.) But then I've gotta wipe my tears, get back on my feet, pick up my racket, my wounded ego, my sometimes-broken heart, and get back into the game. Again. And again and again and again.
Play on, Gail.