Wimbledon – or officially, the annual tournament of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – is gradually taking over from Euro football in the TV schedules. (Loud cheering from Helen!) We both submit ourselves to the torture session of watching British favourite Andy Murray win after very nearly losing or lose after very nearly winning. Then there’s the relentless precision of Djokovic and the artistic mastery of Federer and always the brave resistance of the rank outsider. This we’re missing the animal instinct and compulsive twitching of Nadal. There is so much going on more than tennis and strawberries. Wimbledon, both on TV and when we’ve visited the grounds a couple of times, is a slice of life!
One of the most remarkable things about the tournament is the moment of silence as a player prepares to serve. After the previous point the excited and raucous crowd will subside. As soon as the umpire says: ‘Quiet please’ the large crowd is put on mute. It is a remarkable experience to share that instant of silence repeated many times with many other expectant people, as many as 15,000 on Centre Court. The drama is about to begin – and everyone knows it! They treat it with the utmost seriousness and respect.
Every year, until COVID, our daughter Emma used to take me (Helen) to Shakespeare’s Globe for my birthday. The minute a single actor appears, the tiers of chattering people gradually fall silent in their seats, up to 700 people (standing for two or three hours to listen to Shakespearean English!!) stand stock still. All eyes focus on the action. You can almost hear people breathing. And I often think – wow! It’s quieter here than it is in church!
We can’t find the origin of the quotation but the gist of it is that In the theatre there are many people who sit in rapt attention witnessing something that is essentially a fiction. In church where matters of life and death are discussed (or should be!), people have great difficulty in sitting still and silent. (Maybe because a lot of sermons are fantasy rather than real life – but that’s another matter!) Churches, theatres, anywhere where ‘truly’ live issues are considered – the mark of pure attention is often silence. It is a mark of concentration, engagement, the concentration of energy on the matter at hand.
And such concentration is rare in lives so full of sounds and words. The bleeping of the dishwasher calls us to empty it. The pinging of the mobile phone says another message has arrived. Endless notifications. Constant calls on our attention, constant intrusions into our inner quietness. Even the most social of us is the better for a little quiet.
The best players at Wimbledon seem to know that. Where there is serious business being transacted and great players don’t get to Wimbledon without seriousness, there is often a need for a pause for reflection. Think of players between games at Wimbledon. They sit. And yes, they wipe the sweat away from their face and limbs, they take on more fluid, they seek the energy which a banana gives but many also stare for a few moments into the distance, slow down the violent action, try to cut out the noise, and focus on the tussle which they must now re-engage with.
Our life tussles are different from those being played out in London SW 19 over these two weeks but they are no less real. We all need a little time to focus, to cut out the noise, to reflect, to be serious about what we’re going to do next before springing back into action.
So, quiet please!