Column: Perfection in Our Imperfect World
By Icy Frantz
Sometimes it seems like we are living in a world full of conflict and criticism, devoid of kindness and grace. When a story comes around that touches us in a way that is both reassuring and inspirational, it rekindles our own grace. Maybe it’s not so much a story, but a powerful moment that allows us to look toward the future with renewed hope because we know that the moment doesn’t stand alone. There are many more like it, every day. Noticing them and talking about them and, dare I say it, tweeting them, holds them up as testimony that some things are actually going great.
For as long as I can remember, I have been completely and totally addicted to the US Open. It’s relentless. I blame it on my first trip to the then, Forest Hills. Watching from the nose bleed section at all of twelve, I was thrilled. Then I spotted a friend much closer with a few empty seats by her side. I ended up in the front row. It was exhilarating and exciting and I have loved the US Open ever since.
A few decades later, just around Labor Day every year as summer begins to turn to fall, I find myself uncharacteristically in front of the tv, tuned to tennis from morning until late into the night. I excuse myself early from commitments. I turn down invitations. I watch. If I am lucky, I make the trek into the now, USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and am remined of my first taste so many years ago.
I love the tennis. I love the commentating. I love the people watching. I love to hear about the players, their lives, their training, their path to the US Open. I LOVE NEW YORK! There is electricity in the air.
So, this past Saturday night when many were enjoying the last weekend of summer at barbecues and outings, I sat glued to the tv ready to watch a match that had received a lot of hype. Young 15-year-old Coco Guaff was playing for the first time on center court against the current number one, Naomi Osaka. If you have followed the tennis, you know where I am going with this, but it merits repeating all the same. The match had not been as close as many had predicted. Osaka was in command from the first point. It was good tennis, but what gave me and all those watching pause were the moments following the match.
Coco was emotional, as she should have been. Here was a 15-year-old, playing on center court against the world number one. It is hard for me to fathom any of our own children in that predicament. There was pressure and nerves and an expectation to do well. How could there not be?
Coco lost and Osaka, young in her own right at 21, put aside her own joy and shared the moment with the younger player. She consoled her and then brought her into the courtside interview that is usually limited to just the winner. And then Osaka gave a shout out to Coco’s parents and even to the crowd that had been clearly rooting for the younger player. It was totally off script and genuine and kind.
Just as this was happening, my daughter came into the room.
“What? Mom are you crying?” Admittedly, this is not an unusual occurrence for me so I do sometimes get mocked by my less emotional children.
And then a text from a friend. “I am crying.” Relief, I am not alone.
We were moved by the incredible example of sportsmanship, by the support of one young athlete to another, by the mentorship of one woman to another, by a victory that far exceeded the actual win, and by beauty that is so available to all of us. By grace.
And, as it turns out, I was far from alone. Social media was aglow. “In a society that encourages competition over connection on most days, the beauty exists in the moments we lift as we climb,” exclaimed Susan Piver, a meditation expert and teacher, on her Instagram feed.
When this year’s tournament is over, and we think back over the two weeks of wonderful tennis, it will be this story that we remember.
Not long after, our daughter was using a few final hours to put the finishing touches on her eighth grade summer package. She was asked to write an essay describing how she sees herself and how that might differ from the way the outside world sees her. Her piece was honest and thoughtful. I won’t divulge her insights but I will share her last line. “I hope this year is perfectly imperfect.”
And I thought that’s it, we live in such an imperfect world with moments of complete and utter perfection. Naomi Osaka had given us one of those moments of pure perfection.
On Sunday, I found myself at the final First Presbyterian summer service at the seaside garden at Tod’s Point. It was a beautiful morning and I sat among two wonderful friends, one of whom was mourning the loss of her mother, while a monarch butterfly flitted around the congregation. Sean Miller gave the sermon titled “When One Plus One Equals A Thousand”, a sermon about miracles; not the show stopping, earth moving miracles that we want, but more about the everyday miracles that we sometimes get. In the quiet that followed the sermon, I thought about the words spoken. Tears were shed in the quiet. Hands were held in the quiet. A mother was remembered and missed in the quiet.
I thought about the everyday miracles in our imperfect world. And the miracle of life and death, and mothering, and lifelong friendships and the monarch butterfly. And about the performance of two young tennis players who, on center stage, were able to give us all a gift that far exceeded the gift of tennis. They gave us the gift of renewed hope that maybe some things are actually going great.