Missing the Love Right In Front of Us

WHOLE-zentennis

Occasionally we miss the forest for the trees. We let the details and challenges of our busy lives overrun the joy. We see our own distress and desires as the most important part of our universe. This is where the prayerful pause comes in.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

Here’s an example of how my hyper-type-a focus can keep me lasered in on my goals while overlooking the love of my life.

Tennis has been a life-long passion of mine. Since I was a kid I’ve hustled on the tennis court not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I’ve wanted to compete at the highest levels. And more recently I’ve learned to simply enjoy the game. In fact, the height of my joy in the last ten years has been playing casually with my kids, on the court to “just hit balls.” The time on court with my daughter has been filled with what I call peak moments. Moments in life where you stop and breathe it all in.

“This is a perfect moment.”

I say it as a sort of mantra, affirming my life, my joy, and my gratefulness at being alive. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving.

In my marriage I couldn’t quite get my then-wife to join me on the courts. She tried in the early months of our courtship, before we were married. Taking a few lessons with her girlfriend, they joked about how they were really in it for the skirts. And yes, I suppose, the image of a woman in a tennis skirt causes my inner-enthusiast to jump up and down. But the skirt was to become more of a symbol of what we missed, rather than what we enjoyed and developed together as a couple.

But I never forgot about the skirt. And in my rebuilding process over the last five years I have rediscovered how important tennis, and joyful exercise, is to my health and recovery. One of my happy places is being on the court. Even alone, hitting against a backboard, I can find an inner smile. And it’s not all that goal-driven, these days. Mostly, I really enjoy the feel of the ball “pinging” off my strings and the zip of the well-stroked topspin forehand. I have been focused in the last 18 months on using tennis as a way to improve my fitness and remain social even in times when I would rather stay at home and sulk.

Enter my new relationship. She was reading my posts about tennis and joy and relationships. And when she began chatting with me on Facebook about 8 months ago, one of the first keywords she dropped was “tennis.” We’ve had several discussions about her intention and her prior research into my blogs, but the main thing is… She laid down the offer to play tennis as a first volley in our relationship.

And it wasn’t long before we were actually hitting tennis balls together. And she WAS wearing a pristine white tennis skirt. (As our relationship developed over the next months, this same skirt became a talisman for me when she was traveling.) We made tennis part of our thing. It was an easy request for either of us, “Wanna go hit some tennis balls?” The answer was usually, “Let’s go.”

As my energy and enthusiasm for life continued to build in the presence of such an energetic and positive person, I also began ramping up my tennis game. A month ago I entered a tennis ladder to play competitive singles again. And while my tennis was ON my fitness was not up for the 1 – 2 hours in the Texas Summer heat. I played well, but I was beaten in my first two matches, more because my body could not keep up with the extended match play.

After one of these matches, she said, “We can go hit more balls.”

And here’s where my intention and passion missed the bigger picture.

I responded in a different way. “That’s not really what I need.”

I could see her expression change.

“I mean, I love hitting with you and everything, but it’s not really going to improve my competitive fitness.”

In the moment, I was confused about what to say next. I had caused a fracture between us, but I didn’t yet know how to repair the damage.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

I did my best over the course of the next few weeks, as I was beaten two more times on the court, to chat about how playing with her was not “competitive” but “fun” and that was always good. But I wasn’t showing her. I was not asking her to play tennis. I was thinking about how to WIN at my singles matches. Oops. I really needed to stop, breathe, and join with her. But I stayed in my pseudo-buddhist revery knowing something was amiss, but unable to see through my own fog to identify it clearly. And if you don’t know what’s wrong, it is very hard join together again with a repair.

Yesterday, I said, “Let’s go hit some balls.” We’ve just moved into a new house with a court down the street.

“When?” she asked.

“Right now.”

“I could go running first,” she replied. “If you have other things to want to do.”

“No. I want to do this now.”

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

And walking over to the court I was struck by a simple fact. THIS WAS MY HEAVEN. My dream in all those years of aloneness, in all the workout-cardio tennis classes, was to get myself in good enough shape to attract a woman and get her on the tennis court. BOOM. In that moment, even before we’d struck a single ball, I GOT IT. This is what I was missing. This act, this moment, just being in connection with this woman, AND getting to hit tennis balls! Wow. I’m pretty sure that’s what nirvana is: becoming aware that this very moment is heaven.

Within 5 minutes of starting two guys came up to the court. Being new to the area, I didn’t know if there was some system for using the court. “No, it’s just first come first serve,” the guy said, envying not only our possession of the court but my sharp fiancé in her white skirt.

Had we waited even five more minutes, the court would’ve been taken.

Breathe and say yes, right now. Do it.

And then it was time for my awareness to be made mutual. I was ready for the repair.

“Honey, I want to tell you something.” She stopped and we sat down. I’m known for these kind of hold-on-a-minute moments.

“I want you to know that playing tennis with you was a 100% high. That is my definition of heaven. And it’s about you and tennis and nothing more.”

“Okay.” She smiled, but she was aware that something else was coming.

“I wanted to let you know that I missed your offers a few weeks ago. I know you were asking to go hit tennis balls as a way of supporting my fitness and my competitive nature.”

She nodded.

“But I was missing the point. I got all wrapped up in getting fit and ready for the competition that I lost sight of the real goal… Fun with you. Tennis with you. Anything with you, but really, tennis with you. That’s my dream come true. And here you are, saying ‘Let’s go.’ and I’m forgetting to ask. I’m focused on some other goal, winning, maybe. But that’s not my goal.

“My goal is to be right here with you. To experience life and love with you in as many moments as I have left on the Earth.”

The smile broke across her face. This was a lovey dovey talk.

“And tennis with you IS THE MOMENT I have been praying for and working for all my life.”

I know that sounds corny or woowoo, but it’s essential for me to explain this. I play tennis. It is my passion. Given options, there are few things I would choose over tennis. Getting to play tennis with my partner, that was a dream I was beginning to give up on. Fighting to remember and get myself back into shape so it *could* happen, but at our age… Now, I see, tennis is the dream. Playing tennis is living the dream. Playing tennis with my sweetheart is heaven on Earth. Nirvana is now.

Never give up on the dream. I dreamed of white skirts and a smiling woman on the opposite site of a tennis net.

I have arrived.

Breathe. Let it all go.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

see the Positive Divorce & Coparenting section

more posts of interest:

Oh, and we have a pool in our neighborhood.

off-swimmingfeet

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