I had an old friend who once loved competitive tennis and me. During his meandering, protracted exit from us, he said in a pique of unexpected anger,
“You #%! @?! people take your ‘hobby’ too #%! @?! seriously!”
There was purposeful bite in the delivery and the expletives were splendidly explicit. The purpose of the pronouncement was not really to mock competitive tennis, but rather to diminish me.
Diminishment of me sort of became his hobby for a memorable stretch of time. He took that pretty #$%*! seriously.
Every once in a while, the anthology of cruelty he built with words echoes in my brain; sneaks into my frontal lobe despite the good work I’ve done to exorcise it. That’s the thing about words I guess; powerful, deafening bells that can fade in time, but the echo never really gets unrung.
Words, words, words…. That “sticks and stones” nursery rhyme? Pure poppycock.
I’m nothing if not painfully reflective, and so two years later I might adjust the missive to suit my own voice
“Aren’t you lucky to have a hobby that means so much to you!”
Damn Straight, I am!
I recently returned from the United States Tennis Association forty and over Sectional Championships, held North of the great city of Boston. With ten incredible ladies well passed the 40-year-old mark, I took my place on indoor tennis courts which baked in their aluminum and steel coverings all day during this relentless August heat wave. No such luxury as air-conditioned indoor courts North of Boston. I felt like a hot dog at Fenway Park, just sitting on one of those rolling griddles waiting to be plucked and put out of its misery.
And boy was it &#%!? fun!
I admit, USTA competitive tennis can seem a little nutty to the layperson’s eye, and perhaps some of us border on obsessive. But dadgummit, it is a rare joy at our age to compete athletically for something that means anything. Candidly, it’s been part therapy for me as I have muddled through the last 2 years. The tennis court is a place of peace from the perseveration of things over which I have no control.
And like love, serious often comes with unadulterated joy.
I am an athlete of the Labrador variety. As a child, I would chase or gather any orb in site. Softball, basketball, and golf were the choices in my athletic prime. Tennis was just an entertaining way to while away an afternoon with my friends after the real games were done.
At 42, I turned to tennis when sports of my childhood became more memory than sensible reality. The ladies and gentleman I play with on USTA teams are a raggedy clan of athletes who find that competing at this stage is worth every groan of lumbar or knee, every piercing pain that shoots through shoulders and elbows. On the court, we feel young and tend to our aches with a gladiatorial pride that we ache at all; so happy we are to still compete.
I am also mostly Labrador in my everyday life; friendly, engaging, playful and approval oriented. Once the sports bra and the nearly too short tennis skirt gets wrestled onto my middle-aged body, all bets are off. When I take the court in a USTA match I am there to do one thing: to win. I am helped a great deal to that end by an opponent’s bad line call or any hint of mental gamesmanship. Any whiff of arrogance or unsportsmanlike behavior across the net from me and it’s GAME ON! Once a match is settled, I revert off the court to my affable self.
I have a wonderful regular woman’s partner whose on court disposition is quite different from mine. She loves a little chatter with the opposition on side changes and court controversy discomforts her. Her game face demands peace and focus on that fuzzy yellow ball. She calms my fiery competitive core when it overheats, while I draw grit from her zen-like center when our backs are to the wall. Accepting each other as we are leads to winning more than losing.
This is not to say my tennis life is all serious business. Often, USTA matches in regular season are just plain fun. Locally, I usually know and like my opponents and those matches can seem inconsequential and controversy free. On those days, I marvel at the lot of we middle aged athletes racing forward and backward, side to side, chasing that fuzzy ball at endless risk of injury which might wreak havoc in our “real” lives. On any match day, a teammate might catch me doing a little salsa step on the court, cuz even when it’s intense, I never forget that it’s fun.
As well, this midlife foray into tennis has brought to my world people I might otherwise never come to know in my regular world.
I have USTA tennis to thank for unexpected friendships with international flavor: Russian, Indian, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, German, South African, British and Spanish. I count among my tennis pals: Nurses, teachers, businessmen and women, scientists, attorneys, allied health professionals, and many friends who are chief executives of their families. They have all added texture and richness to my life off the court.
Hmm. That’s some serious musing about a ‘hobby’, and maybe more metaphor about life than anything else.
As in life and love, commitment, dedication, investment, enthusiasm and stamina are noble attributes to apply. The rewards generally reach beyond expectation.
Taking one’s hobby too %&#*! seriously might apply to risking your life to find a Pokemon. Tennis, golf, knitting, writing, and anything that constitutes a “hobby” deserves enthusiastic engagement. Otherwise, what’s the point?
My ladies team advances forward to next weekend’s New England Regional Championships with a shot at a spot to compete in the national USTA Championships late October.
What’s that I hear in the distance? Hmmm, I think it’s the echo of that swagger I used to have, coming to find me.
Belittle my hobby all you want, but at 54 that calls for some serious %$@!* celebration!