FAITH & REFLECTION
The manuscript for “Days of Grace: A Memoir” by Arthur Ashe was completed one week before his death. Ashe (1943 – 1993), was a world-class American tennis player, whose list of athletic achievements could fill pages. Impressive!! However, his personal character and spiritual journey was even more impressive.
Ashe was not very fond of Christianity. He was born in a colored neighborhood of segregated Richmond, Virginia. It was often those who called themselves Christians who kept him, because of his color, from playing in many important events in the beginning of his tennis career. He once said, “Jews, much more than Christians, have been kind and helpful, as I have struggled with segregation in tennis.”
However, his strongest competitor in tennis and ultimately his best friend, was Stan Smith, a dedicated follower of Jesus.
Stan’s consistent Christian testimony was so solid that Arthur simply couldn’t ignore it. Arthur stated, “My opponent was Stan Smith, a brilliant tennis player, but an even more impressive human being.”
In one game, Ashe lost to Smith by one questionable point. He could have called for a replay and have an opportunity to win, but he didn’t because Smith claimed he’d legitimately made the point. When asked how he could be so naïve, he replied, “I wouldn’t take just anybody’s word for it, but if Stan Smith says he got to the ball, he got to it. I trust his character.” It was Smith’s solid Christian testimony and integrity that influenced Arthur to accept Jesus as his Savior at a later date.
In 1979 Ashe had a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. In 1983 he had a second surgery to correct the first one. Plagued by ongoing, inexplicable symptoms, it was discovered that he was HIV-positive. Attending physicians concluded that he’d contracted HIV from blood transfusions received during the second surgery.
He died in February, 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.
In “Days of Grace” Ashe wrote, “I don’t waste time pleading with God to make me well…rather, prayer is a medium through which I ask God to show me His will and to give me strength to carry out that will.”
During his illness, Ashe received fan letters from all over the world. One fan asked, “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?” Ashe replied, “The world over, 50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5, 000 reach a grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to semi-finals, 2 to the finals… and when I held the world cup, I never asked God, “Why me?”
He post-scripted, “Happiness keeps you Sweet…Trials keep you Strong… Sorrow keeps you Human.”