When I was a teenager I came across a quote that made a profound impression on me. It came at a moment in my life that, when I read it, it leaped out at me and landed right in my heart.
At the time I was competing in several local and statewide scholarship programs, and this quote got me through many shaky moments. I would think of it before I went out on stage, I would think of it before I had an interview, I would even think of it before I entered a new social situation. I probably repeated it hundreds of times in my head, and it always helped me stay poised and level my nerves. In a way you could say that this short little quote gave me the confidence to successfully earn enough scholarship money to pay for almost all of my college tuition. After 20 years I can still repeat it:
Regardless of how you feel inside, always try and look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of confidence and control can give you the mental edge that results in victory.
This was said by Arthur Ashe. But even inspiring words like these mean little until you know the background of the person who said it.
Arthur Ashe was the first African American man to be ranked the number 1 tennis player in the world, the first (and still only) African American to win the USOpen. He became a devoted civil-rights advocate. Tragically, he became HIV positive after receiving a blood transfusion. He died of AIDS when he was 49. Arthur Ashe was a man who is remembered for his dignity and courage in a time of fear and injustice.
I still use his quote all the time. It is a great mantra for motherhood. For instance when all of your children are crying or yelling at the same time (which my children never do), instead of throwing them out the window or putting them up for adoption, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and repeat, “Regardless of how you feel inside . . . ”
Because if Arthur Ashe can have grace under pressure with big challenges, we can have it with small ones.
Last week my twin daughters auditioned for an orchestra. One daughter was feeling particularly inadequate, so I introduced her to Arthur Ashe. “Regardless of how you feel inside…” As she listened to the words I saw a change in her features. A light, a spark. I don’t know how that quote made her feel on the inside, but it seemed to do the trick. She was successful in her audition and she made the orchestra.
And so Arthur’s words inspire yet another generation.
As it happened I married a tennis player. One of the perks of marrying into a tennis family is that every now and then we get to go to amazing places like this. This week I got another once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Arthur Ashe Stadium, home of the US Open.
In the center of the complex, right as you walk in there is a statue of a man poised, mid-serve. Around the statue, carved in stone, they have this quote from Arthur Ashe:
From what we get we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.
You don’t have to play tennis to have your life changed by Arthur Ashe.
You just have to be human.
If you have an Arthur Ashe story or quote I would love to hear about it in the comments.
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. –Arthur Ashe