Tennis Lessons

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Every once and a while I think I have a brilliant idea about something to write about but I’ve been writing my blog long enough now, that I know that I often need to go and see if I’ve written about that particular thing before. It’s not that I mind writing about the same subject more than once, it’s that I hate it when I write a post and then realize that I wrote almost the same post six months or a year earlier.

Today was almost one of those days. My plan was to write a post about all the metaphors for life I have learned from playing tennis. Anyone who regularly reads my blog knows how important this game is to me and how after getting physically sick, it has become even more important because it is a game I almost had to stop playing. After doing a search, I have apparently written about this idea before…several times in fact…and I’m going to again now but hopefully with some originality. While I was on the tennis court today several thoughts about this game and what it has taught me popped in my head so instead of telling you a story, as I so often have before, I’m just going share the thoughts I had today as they occurred to me. All of them apply to both the game tennis and the game of life:

Tennis has taught me that when you take your eye off the ball you lose the point…every time.

Tennis has taught me that in order to win, you’ve got to play.

Tennis has taught me that being strong and fast matter but being smart matters more.

Tennis has taught me to have fun.

Tennis has taught me that sometimes the risky shot is the winning shot.

Tennis has taught me the importance of stepping forward.

Tennis has taught me to never to give up.

Tennis has taught me to stay focused on what I want.

Tennis has taught me that I can always play better.

Tennis has taught me the importance of being a gracious loser.

Tennis has taught me that when I miss a shot, it’s best to let it go and move on.

Tennis has taught me that anger does nothing to improve my game.

Tennis has taught me patience.

Tennis has taught me to value practice time.

Tennis has taught me that if you want it, you’ve got to work for it.

Tennis has taught me the power of positive energy.

Tennis has taught me that when I am lazy I will miss opportunities.

Tennis has taught me to keep moving.

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Another Tennis “Lesson”

“It’s not how hard you hit the ball, it’s where you place the shot that matters” 

                                                -Sarcoidosis Soldier, 2015 

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My husband and I were at the neighborhood tennis courts this weekend, hitting a few balls and trying to get a little exercise. The court next to ours was also in use. Another couple was already there when we arrived. They had been there awhile. You could tell because there were tennis balls all over the place and they looked pretty hot and sweaty.

As my husband and I began to warm up, hitting balls back and forth over the net, we got into a quiet pleasant rhythm and it felt comfortable and easy and fun, until I realized we were actually subject to the constant chatter of the couple next to us.

I found the more that I tried to tune this couple out, the harder it was for me to focus on the ball and I began to miss shots. The husband was belittling his wife and she was nagging him not to hit the ball so hard. They were obnoxiously and unnecessarily cruel to each other.

Eventually they took a break, and the man got on the phone with someone. I heard him, because he was not at all quiet, asking someone to come to the court so he could hit some hard balls with someone. Soon, another man arrived and the woman left. I hoped for peace but found none because as this guy started to hit balls hard, he started grunting with every shot he hit.

And, he whined and complained if the other man hit a short ball that forced him to run or if the other man hit a shot he could not return. I was growing increasingly annoyed at the spectacle this man was making of himself. He was beyond a nuisance and I found him to be incredibly irritating.

I worked hard to keep him tuned out. I kept telling myself to focus on my own game, to watch the ball, get my racquet back and move my feet. Yet, all I could really hear was the blah, blah, blah and the grunting coming from the court next to ours.

Later that day, I got thinking about how I really let this guy get under my skin, and then something occurred to me. I realized that he annoyed me because he was too eager to impress and his focus was in the wrong place. He didn’t want to work for a shot. He was lazy. He assumed that if you just hit the ball hard, the game should come easily to you but the game doesn’t work that way. And, neither does life.

I realized right then and there that the way he was trying to play the game, is a metaphor for life, for the fact that you cannot take short cuts without consequences. You see, in tennis, it isn’t always how hard you hit the ball that matters, sometimes where you place the shot is more important. Life is like that too.

We can charge our way through life like a bull dozer, but when we do, we need to be prepared for the fact that we will miss the simple nuances which are the things that bring the most joy. We can be the schoolyard bully if we want to be, but then we miss what love feels like. We can force our ideas on people, but then we miss the opportunity to gain from others wisdom.

At the time we were playing tennis, I was not happy with that guy being on the other court. And if truth be told, I hope not to see him again any time soon. But, I will say that his presence and his attitude and the way he played the game did provide me with the opportunity to be reminded of an important life lesson.

Life is a delicate balance of strength and finesse. It requires savage strength sometimes but it also cries out for patience and peace. A successful life is the mastery of flair and artistry over brawn and brutality. Life is delicate and should be treated as such.

For The Love Of The Game

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There I stand on the white line, waiting, eyes on the fuzzy orb coming over the net in my direction at wicked speed. As I focus all my energy on that round yellow ball and I cock my racquet back, all of my pain melts away and for a moment I am free. I am normal.

I manage a pretty good return across court as I watch my shot land just on the inside of the line, but my opponent is fast and before I know it, that lemon colored sphere is heading my way again and I must remain vigilant of its direction or I will miss my next shot. In my vigilance, I am unrestricted by my disease. I am without a care as my thoughts are only about the ball and the placement of my feet.

Oh boy, here comes a drive shot down the line! I am flat footed across the court but in a split second’s decision, I make a run for it. Will I be fast enough to position myself behind the ball in order to get it back over the net? Maybe!

That’s the nature of this game that I love. You play against someone but the person you challenge more than anyone is yourself. It’s a game of will. Can you stay focused? Are you able to maneuver into position and do you remember to step into the ball? Are your eyes on the ball at all times or are you daydreaming again? Do you know how to place the shot or are you just trying to stay in the game? Can you hit a winner?

Out of breath with wobbly legs, I smile as I wait for the next ball to come my way. I am ready. My racquet is back, my knees are bent and my eyes are steady on that round canary colored ball. It’s coming at me hard but I turn sideways and whack that sucker back over the net using all my strength. Now I am limp but I hardly notice because my focus is elsewhere and I am consumed by the love of the game.

I pay a heavy price for the love of the game now because of my sarcoidosis. I am completely shot after I play. My legs are like noodles. My bones ache. My muscles cramp. My lungs burn. Often, it takes me at least a day, sometimes longer, to fully recover but I can’t quit. I won’t. I need this game. It’s like medication for my soul because when I play, I feel like a whole person and very few things left in life give me this feeling. So, I’ll keep playing until I can’t anymore. I will appreciate every moment I have that feeling of utter freedom even knowing it will be followed by bone crushing pain.

I will continue to play for the love of the game and for the love the game gives me.

Tennis, A Feeling Of Freedom And Learning To Adjust

It is not the winning that matters in a challenge. It is what we learn about ourselves along the way that we should concentrate on and appreciate the most.

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Recently, I’ve been feeling well enough to go hit tennis balls with my husband. Okay, I’ll be honest here…even when I don’t feel well enough, I will often go hit with him. I love being on the court. I love the freedom that comes from clearing my mind of everything but the ball. It gives me a peace like very few other things and despite being sick I just can’t give it up…yet.  I can’t play the way that I used to because of Sarcoidosis but that’s okay. I have to accept my limits and the ways my body has changed because of it. Talk about a challenge!

Even in my healthier days, I could not beat my husband. I might be faster but he is stronger and I never wanted him to show me any mercy. So he didn’t. He doesn’t even now that I am sick which I actually appreciate because I don’t want pity for having been slowed so considerably by this disease.

Learning to play a sport that I love all over again has been a challenge. I have had to learn to hit shots differently. And while I am still pretty fast, faster than you’d think, I cannot rely on my once near perfect speed to get me where I need to be on the court. Sometimes I am too winded and sometimes I am in too much pain. So I have to concentrate that much harder. I can no longer take athletic ability for granted. I have to think more about what I want to do with the ball and I have to be okay with letting some balls go that I used to be able to return.

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And as we played today, I managed to hit a few great balls. I never once won a game…never mind a set but the pride I felt just hitting that little yellow orb as it spun at me several miles an hour back at him cross court or down the line, felt so good. I did manage to win a few beautiful points. Despite my illness I have been able to retain this part of myself and I can still feel free when I play.

So playing tennis now as a chronically ill person has taught me that it is the challenge of each ball that matters not the game as a whole. And I can take pride in my losses because at least I am still playing, still trying. still reaching.

I don’t have to give up things that are important to me even though I am sick now. I just have to learn to do many of them differently and this includes my tennis game. But because I have learned this, I can still enjoy that much needed feeling of freedom this game gives me when I step on the court and forget everything else. I don’t have to give up. I never have to give up no matter what I am faced with.

Everyone needs an outlet like this.

Everyone needs an opportunity to forget their troubles.

Everyone needs an opportunity to feel free even if for awhile.

Everyone needs a release.

So who knows, one day my disease might force me to give up this game and if that day ever comes, I will grieve but I will also cling to the feeling of the freedom it has given me with everything I’ve got and I will find something new to put it in because I welcome the lessons of a good challenge.