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In Praise of Tears...Thank you, Ons Jabeur

At one set down and the score of 2-3 in the second set, Ons Jabeur voluntarily put her back against the wall. She stood for what felt like eternity...solo...as only a tennis player does. I would love to know was said between her mind, body and soul. She emerged from the shadows and won the next game. It wasn't enough. Just four games letter, her nemesis Marketa Vondrousova fell to the ground, triumphant. Game. Set. Match: Vondrousova. The unseeded Czech defeated Jabeur, the two seed in straight sets—6-4, 6.4. 

But a few moments later, the closing ceremony pageantry commenced. The Princess of Wales greeted and thanked the ball boys and girls, lines-people and chair umpire. The crowd came to their feet, clapping and cheering in thanksgiving for a fortnight of great tennis. Jabeur, a crowd favorite, was the first to receive her trophy. She could barely grasp the award—a silver platter for first runner up—she was crying so much. She didn't hold back.

As written in The New Times, "Shortly after, during the on-court ceremony, Jabeur broke down, wiping tears from her pink eyes as she spoke to spectators, and holding the runner-up trophy like a dirty dish. She called it “the most painful loss” of her career.

It was hard to look away. That moment, if frozen in time, only revealed something every human being knows all too well: a dream denied. Again, one need not be a tennis player, an athlete or even a sports fan to have a sense of how Jabeur was feeling. And I loved her even more for letting us in.

Not every player who loses cries, but many do. So what gives? How or why were the tears from Jabeur any different? Maybe it's because—on some level— we get it, and it helps to see others do too. Who hasn't come close and lost? Who hasn't given their all toward a goal and come up short? Who hasn't been the favorite and emerged on the other side? 

Jabeur truly let herself be in the moment. In what felt again, like an eternity, we waited to see her regain her composure and speak. We saw her unable to let go of the pain of defeat. We watched Kate offer consolation and we watched as we saw Ons try to take it in. 

I don't know what it's like to play in the finals of Wimbledon. I don't know what's like to come that close to achieving a high profile, historic dream. But I do know what it's like to let myself be unable to "shake it off (sorry, Taylor)" or be anything but disappointed. Furthermore, I believe it offers a lesson to be learned about spirituality. 

There is no shortage of pain in this world—death, violence and destruction. Disease, divorce, hunger and the list goes on. But this pain is different. I think there's value in recognizing and appreciating that. This pain stems from desire. In "The Holy Longing," Ron Rolheiser writes "This dis-ease is universal.  Desire gives no exemptions.  It does, however, admit of different moods and faces … can show itself as aching pain or delicious hope.  Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire." What a nuanced way to think about spirituality.

In Ons, we see a desire to be the best, and to achieve a goal. Though tennis is an individual sport, I believe one of the reasons she is so popular among the fans is because her desire does not feel totally selfish or solitary. For example, in her loss Jabeur apologized for "letting my fans and my team down."

Furthermore, it's not just Jabeur's desire but who she is along the path toward its progress that draws us in. This journey speaks to her own, unique personality...and her spirituality. David Waldstein writes: 

Jabeur, who appears as genuine as she is talented; one of the many reasons fans are so drawn to her. As the No. 6 seed, she played magnificently here, avenging last year’s devastating loss to No. 3 Rybakina in a quarterfinal and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in their semifinal. Many thought it was Jabeur’s time, making the loss more excruciating and eliciting sympathy even from Vondrousova’s camp.

“When I saw her, I started to cry, too,” said Stepan Simek, Vondrousova’s husband. “Ons is a very lovely human. She has a good heart and is very friendly with opponents, and even to me. I was very sad because she deserves to be a Grand Slam champion. She will make it one day.”

What a delicious hope. 

To be human is to have desire. Yes, some desires are indeed self consuming, while others are beautiful, up-lifting. Most are...human. Many professionals play tennis for selfish desires—the fame, the money and the glory. Others play tennis because it's a beautiful game. They represent their country, their homeland, who and/or what they represent. I would argue all players are probably somewhere in between, but a championship like Wimbledon offers a stage where we are able to question it all.

Rolheiser repeats his claim, but makes a subtle distinction. He writes "Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality." 

I began this blog posting on Saturday, July 15 but an hour after Jabeur lost the match. Less than 24 hours later, I was surprised to see Novak Djokovic also shedding tears a few minutes into his interview on the court—following his loss to Carlos Alcaraz in the men's final. He handled the pain in a similar way— he was gracious in defeat but honest with his emotions. While he is a very different person and has a different style of play, both athletes share a common desire and conclusion to it for now. 

There's a certain beauty in recognizing what we desire, our path toward it and where it will take us. There is a subtle irony in recognizing that tears are a likely result of either outcome. I stand in praise and appreciation of both.

Photo Credits
Tears and Fist Pump
Djokovic in tears, too
Princess Kate

source https://sportsandspirituality.blogspot.com/2023/07/in-praise-of-tearsthank-you-ons-jabeur.html


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