Monday Musings… A Chance Encounter that Changed My Thinking

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a dull day in my 50+ years of living on this planet. Even on vacation, I know I’ll meet a stranger who will teach me something I never knew before, or I’ll try something interesting, like an activity, food, destination… anything out of the ordinary.

A couple of weeks ago, we went camping. It’s never been my go-to vacation choice, but hey, you never know what animal might be lurking around your site late at night, or you may have the awesome chance to invent some incredible, never-thought-of-before card game while waiting for a torrential downpour to end. So, I left for this vacation with excitement and anticipation of adventure!

When we got to the campground, there just happened to be a weekly list of things to do. My kind of campsite! So, when I read: “Pickleball Instruction: Monday at 10:45 a.m.”, I thought, why not! I’d only recently heard of this sport and had no idea how to play. I liked that it said “Instruction” meaning I’d gather with other newbies and hopefully not look completely incompetent. The thought of learning something new was right up my alley, or as I was soon to discover, right in my court 😊

I showed up at 10:45 along with 9 other novices of varying ages and genders. The pro, an actual pro, started to explain the game. Random fun fact: pickleball was brought to Canada in the year I was born. I thought that was pretty cool. He explained that the sport is similar to badminton, tennis or ping pong. Ok, so I understood that meant whacking an object with a racquet/paddle. Got it! Then, he went through some movements and had us line up to try a serve.

I positioned myself mid-pack. I didn’t want to go first as I wanted to repeatedly study the movements of those before me so I could mentally prepare for my shot at this. Also, to be honest, I didn’t want to look like a klutz right off the bat, oh I mean paddle. The line kept getting closer and then… it was my turn. I remembered what he had taught us, focused on the ball, and served. “Have you ever played before?” the pro asked. “Umm, no” I replied. “Serve again!” And so, I repeated the shot. “You’re a natural! You don’t need anymore practice. Let the next person give it a try.” I obeyed and made my way to the sidelines.

“You’re a natural.” I’ve never heard these words before in my entire life. I may have scored top marks in my Intro Psych course like I mentioned last week, but the prof never called me a ‘natural’ or said that I was destined to be working in the mind field. I just had great grades and the only way I got them was because I worked really, really hard. A ‘natural’, on the other hand, just gets it. There’re no all-nighters studying, or weeks upon weeks of relentless training. And here, someone was calling me “a natural” in a sport founded in Canada in my birth year. It must be my destiny! I can see it now on my tombstone: “Charlene Mahon and Pickleball Two Originals Established in 1965”

Now, some of you who’ve been called a ‘natural’ at whatever it is you’re good at, would take the compliment in stride. You would be flattered, thank the person who made the comment, and carry on with confidence. For me, this was actually a momentous mind-blowing moment, and it made me realize that even though I think that I have matured, or grown, or healed from past experiences, there’s a remnant of the past that lies in the recesses of my mind waiting to jump to the front of my consciousness at times such as this.

And so, it just hit me how life-changing a stranger’s comment can be. To receive praise from a parent, partner, friend, or colleague is one thing, but hearing it from someone with street cred who you’ve never met before, is a whole other ball game – pun intended. His words just didn’t fit with what I had grown up hearing. I didn’t know how to catalogue his comment with all the other statements in my mental filing cabinet. It took me quite a while to process. The important thing though, was that I believed him.

Who would've thought that while I was camping in Brock Township, I would breathe in for the first time this new found reality?

I actually could be good at something, naturally, and have victory over the memories of being told I wasn’t good enough.

As I head into another school year shortly, I’m taking this experience with me. I know there will be students who have struggled just to get an opportunity to go to college and who’ve felt like nothing has ever come easy. It’s my goal as the ‘pro’ to reveal to them what their ‘natural’ gifts and talents are. I have to believe we all have something we’re exceptionally good at, naturally, and sometimes it takes a stranger to reveal it and put us on the right path.

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