In the fifth grade my parents moved my family and me from a small urban city with mostly black and brown people to a small suburban with mostly white people. With knees knocking and sweat beads on my brow, I went from attending schools with concrete playgrounds and honking horns and sirens outside of it to a school with horse stables and live stock and canyons and wilderness outside of it. The change of culture and setting shock my system out of its slumber. The jolt was good because it caused me to see and experience new things I’d never experience if I lived in that small urban city.
In the city we played baseball, basketball, and football (the US sports trinity). In the suburbs we played the same sports until one of our older neighbors, who wore his short to high for my taste, decided to ask my parents if he could teach my older brother, who was in the eighth grade, how to play tennis. The tennis court was just yards from our house yet we’d never considered playing until my brother got this invite. With great reluctance, my brother went and played.
That invite was all we needed to begin playing tennis daily that entire summer. Something else we gave attention daily was watching tennis on television.
Although McEnroe was a bit older as a tennis player at the time but I still enjoyed watching him play. He played with emotional honesty unlike any other tennis player I’d seen before. In my eyes, most players were suit and tie type, but he was something refreshingly different. He went into epic tirades when the officials missed a call. So when I was browsing for an autobiography to read at the public library and locked my eyes on his book, my hand uncontrollably reached for the book. His life, for a time in my youth, intrigued me. Now I’ve read his autobiography and know why his life impacted me so much.
This book is true to McEnroe’s personality; it’s truthful–it’s how he feels. There’s just something intangible perhaps about the way he writes, speaks, and lives which seems so truthful to me.
His wife had a short section in the book telling the story of the blossoming of their love. She showed that because his inability to himself magnetized her to him. To explain this she quoted the Gladys Knight song “Midnight Train To Georgia” which says, “I’d rather live in his world than live alone in mine.” He drew her in because he was unable bend who he was to who others thought he should be. This comes natural to some but others have to work for this. People like Viola Davis worked on this trait for decades but McEnroe with this middle class upbringing seemed to be born with it.
John McEnroe, like John Thompson in his book I CAME AS A SHADOW, reminds us to speak your mind and be yourself. Often people in charge get away unchecked about harmful things they do to their subordinates because silence enables. Break your silence and speak your mind.
This message is not new yet never stale — it need’s repeating. Many books encourage us to speak our mind and be ourself. It’s great to see how yet another individual has uniquely lived out these enduring principles.