I remember the crisp pop the racket made as it connected with the tennis ball in just the right way in the center of the racket.
It was a solid sound.
I remember the feeling of oneness that came from getting your racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through with a forehand as I watched the ball sail through the air and land cross court.
It was a fluid feeling.
It was also twenty-five years ago. Or more. I never played much beyond competitive play in high school. Recreational play after that had its ups and downs, mostly downs. I played too infrequently to maintain any real skills. Friends I had played with moved away. Finding people with whom I was moderately well matched was challenging. There never seemed to be time. Life got busier with work and other interests. I barely knew who the top ranked players were and seldom caught a match on TV. Years went by as they do.
Last winter, I decided I wanted to play again and made an action plan. I researched my tennis options. I would take a lesson. It would be private so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my level of play with another player. I largely wanted to see what it felt like to be on a court again after so many years and get baseline data for my abilities. I wanted to work on the mechanics of net play, my serve, and my forehand and backhand with minimal running. I figured my brain and body still had the neurological maps for how to do those things, but I needed to focus on them in isolation.
Isolating strokes revealed I still had a lot of really good moves. There was a lot of joy in hitting things.
My mental focus is much stronger in my late forties than in my teens. On that particular day, it was like a part of me was watching me play in slow motion and I noticed what I was doing so I was able to adjust where I needed while I did it. I felt in control, which was something that had been more of a foreign feeling in my life lately.
Before I started, I was concerned I wouldn’t last the seventy-five minutes scheduled for a lesson, but my stamina held up well. I was also playing with my chemo body. I felt really good on the court. The feeling was there as soon as I stepped into the court enclosure. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to have a sense of belonging wash over me as it did. Then I realized the feeling was the mix of joy and excitement.
The joy felt electric, which is a very odd way to describe how I felt, but so much was firing together in my body and mind. It wasn’t just the popping sound of a solid hit or my strokes that felt fluid.
I felt solid and fluid.
I was capable and a little more whole than I was when I woke up that morning. My instructor was impressed with what I was able to do taking into consideration my current health needs and how long I had been away from the game. So was I.
You know how people always try to make things look better than perhaps how they really are? Facebook is a platform for this. So are Christmas letters. We can take multiple photos of ourselves and delete the unflattering ones instantly. This narrative I’ve spun about my triumphant return to tennis feeds into this need to always portray everything in our lives as wonderful. It’s natural to try to look and sound your best and put your best foot forward. But none of those are completely accurate versions of reality. Keep reading.
I am no star athlete and I don’t believe I ever will be. I just want to do something again that I used to love and be more active.
And hit things.
But here is my reality that I’ll leave out of the holiday letter . . .
I got hit with a rogue tennis ball in the head.
Of course I did.
I managed to keep all the balls I hit in my court and not hit any over the high net that divided court enclosures. My control was surprisingly impressive. One ball however came flying over from next door.
My instructor hollered, “Look out!”
I just froze. I knew a ball from somewhere was coming but didn’t see it. Hopefully, it would miss me. One more step and it would have.
After decades of not playing, I was in just the right place at the right time. What were the chances? What was the lesson? Life is filled with imperfections and this was simply a good example of one. In anticipation of my lesson, I had worried I wouldn’t move fast enough and get hit in the face with an oncoming ball. Here I was being taught I had nothing to fear.
Everything was still fine.
And sure, there’s always the lesson to laugh at whatever life throws your way, even if it’s a tennis ball.
Or is this the part I edit out when I share with others?
I guess it’s a little too late for that idea.
Which sounds better?
A) I got hit in the head with a rogue ball from another court because those are the types of things that happen to me.
B) It felt great to be on the court again. I discovered I still had a lot of good moves and hit many balls confidently.
I personally favor B, but know both together give a more complete picture of what happened.
Few things are ever completely wonderful or awful. Keeping the part in about being hit in the head shows resiliency in action. The ball bounced off my head and it was no big deal. I bounced back from that perfect fluke before that ball even landed on the court.
The lesson that offers the biggest take away for me is the lesson of resiliency. It shows up again and again, just as its name implies it should. Resiliency shows up going on longer walks, hiking a hill that seemed out of reach, and taking a tennis lesson.
Every activity offers opportunities for learning more about my capabilities. They provide me with templates to learn how to adapt where I need to and stay flexible in the moment.
Resilience always leads to growth.
Much like the tennis ball, being resilient allows us to keep bouncing. Whether the ball bounces in court, into the net, just out of bounds, or off your head, it bounces in the realm of possibility for making future challenges probable and more successful.
Resiliency is a good match for all of us, whether we play tennis or not.
How has life shown you that you are resilient?