There are nights I go to bed thinking “Tennis is the only thing I am good at.”
There are mornings I only wake up because tennis is a part of my day.
And while I know rationally, logically that tennis is not the only thing I am good at, I do derive most of my self-esteem from my abilities on the tennis court. It is the one place where I can completely and totally be me. I lose track of time, throw the ever-present hypervigilance to the wind, and just live. I am at peace when I have a racquet in my hand.
I have so many people to thank for this boost in self-esteem, moments of happiness, and ability on the court. Tennis is one of the greatest gifts given to me by my parents. Those that coached and cultivated me along the way are significant too, because they gave me the skills to keep playing. Thanks to them, I can turn to tennis in good times and in bad for the rest of my life. Chief among them are two guys, who we will call J and E. They believed in me and my game.
If it were not for Mill Pond Tennis club, a place my parents went to build a network of friends when they moved to the South Shore, I would not have had the opportunity to meet some of the best tennis professionals on the South Shore of Massachusetts. On the courts, people looked at my skills, not my scars. On the courts you blend in, or stick out, only because of what you can do with the tennis ball. Few people asked me what was wrong with my face on the court. Everyone is there for one reason, and one reason only to play, to hit a cool shot, have fun, and to compete. My inability to make small talk or do well in big crowds was not important. I had something I liked and was decent at.
If I had not met J, E, and all the others that helped me along the way, I would never have experienced the world in this way.
Today is a sad day for me because one of these men, J, who helped shape my self-esteem and put together a group of people that helped build a community for me, and improve my game in the process, is very sick. I always knew him to be a gentle soul, a good man to all. Perhaps one of the best. He’s the guy that remembers your name 30 years after he last saw you. (Certainly, that must qualify him for some sort of super hero status.)
He’s probably thought about you over the years, looked you up, and hoped you were still playing. He cares about people.
And for me, he created a place where I could find myself and develop a set of values and an identity. Sports have always been an integral part of my life. Tennis allowed me a platform to express myself, manage my emotions, to learn how to lose with dignity (most of the time), and to give me a place to be my authentic self. Some of these things I could not do in the “real world” because I always felt I had to be a certain way for everyone, to do what they wanted me to do, and not disappoint. Or I felt less than.
Never on the tennis court.
Why? Because one can let go of all those things outside of your control when focused singularly on a yellow ball coming at you. The only cognitive processing you have time for is to determine where to hit the next shot. There is no time to worry about the future, nor feel sad about the past. I wish I could stay in the moment forever and take everyone that I care about into that wormhole with me.
Unfortunately, you cannot escape times passage. The court buzzer comes for every one of us.
Sadly, every being is mortal, even these super heroes that walk among us. All we can do is carry on the their legacy through our lives. Be kind to others. Look someone in the eye, let them know they matter. Give a young, quiet girl with a wicked backhand words of encouragement. Smile. Love. Make a difference every day in some small way.
That’s what I hope to devote myself to each and every day.
We are not here for a long time. Let us think worthy thoughts and do worthy things with respect to the time we do have.
May God keep blessing you with a little bit more time, J. Attack that time with the intensity you attacked the net.
We’ll take care of the rest.