Love, Love. It’s how every tennis match begins. Being Valentine’s Day, let me tell you a tennis love story. It is not what you think.
Carson came to our Tennis & Life Camps retreat camp this winter. He was quiet. He was attentive. And he was a hard worker who never complained. Never gave up. Ever.
I watched as his camp unfolded.
There are many things we do not know about others when we meet them. So much that goes on under the surface.
I asked him at the end of camp – the last morning as I read thank you notes to him our instructors had written – “How was your camp?”
He answered in a way I have to say I’ve never heard a camper answer. “It was good and not so good.” I was taken by his honesty. But I wasn’t prepared for his answer when I asked, “What was the ‘not so good’ part?” He said, “I made a lot of mistakes.”
Let me digress for a paragraph. I give each camper and chaperone and staff member a “name” at the end of each retreat camp. For example, World Opener. Or Path Maker. Or Happiness Bringer. Or, in my case, Too-Many-Question-Asker. It arises from something that describes what I saw them uniquely bring on court, and then to the group for all our dialogue about difficult inequities facing us as a country, and what we are going to do about them. To Carson, I gave the name Big Heart. He would not know this until a couple hours after this encounter, but there it was in my mind already.
So when Carson said, “I made a lot of mistakes,” I said the first thing that came to my mind. (As my spouse tells me, this is not always one of my more endearing traits). I said, “Yes, you did make a lot of mistakes.” But I continued. “And so did everyone else here. And I watched you. But I didn’t see just the mistakes. I saw the fact that you never, ever gave up, and got much better because of it. But more than that, I watched your entire on-court group dynamic. You had in your group one member – a wonderful person, but a complete beginner – who could not make contact with the ball at all to start with. You are a much better player. You could have dwelt on being “held back” by this. But, instead of being irritated or frustrated or angry, never once did I see you be anything but patient. Never once did I see you be anything but kind. Never once did I see you be anything but encouraging. And your court mate got so much better over the course of camp because of your being this way, when he may have shut down if you treated him as “less” than you. That is what I am going to remember about you, not your mistakes. You taught me something important that I need to learn better.”
Later, in the final program, I gave him the name Big Heart.
When he returned home, his mom wrote a thank you to us, and said the nickname fits. Then I found out what he has lived through. His dad left them with literally nothing when he was 7. His mom and two siblings went into the winter with the heat turned off by the gas company; his older brother, Zach, whom he adored, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on April 14, 2009; a day later, on April 15, his mom lost her job when the factory closed; that same day his grandpa died of leukemia; and that same day they had to move out of their home because of black mold; all while Zach received his first day of chemo; and then, heartache of heartaches that will never go away, his big brother died of his cancer. All this in the span of three years.
Kat wrote, “Carson is on the honor roll for his 2nd year in a row. He is in jazz band. As an eighth grader, he is choosing high school classes now and has a 4-year plan with AP classes, online Japanese and lots of math and biology classes as he’s looking to be a veterinarian. He is wise beyond his years, an old soul.
Even with all we have been through, teachers always comment what a joy he and his sister are to have in class. How kind they are.
So you see, it is indeed amazing that he is so amazing – after having gone through so much at such a young age.”
This is a love story. Of Carson looking out for others who may be struggling. And of a mom who looks at her child, sees all he has been through, knows she will do whatever it takes to get him through what is to come, and all she ever sees is Big Heart.
And it is a love story of the scholarship donors who – without their belief in TLC’s mission to provide camp for all – know this would not have been possible, and brought this teen into our lives to experience his kindness.
On this Valentine’s Day, we are all broken. Every one of us. We can let our brokenness damage the world and wreak havoc on others, and keep them out. Or we can let our brokenness heal the world and welcome others so they, too, know they belong. I know which one Carson and his mom are choosing, as difficult as it may be, day by day, step by step. And I know which one I will try to choose, day by day, step by step. Because I have been in the presence of Big Heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Let Love Serve.