By S M Chen, posted 12-22-2016 by D Kovacs

Pixabay, free use

Pixabay, free use

Where I live a group of people, mostly men, meet a couple times a week to play tennis. There is no pre-arrangement or pressure. People show up as they wish and are able.

The six courts are, for the size of the populace that support them, underutilized. Entry is only by wireless key, but those lacking such are admitted by others having the key.

The only truly suboptimal situation is if but one person shows. There is no backboard.

However, usually more than one comes. If there are 2, then those two rally and perhaps eventually play.

If there are 3, usually what is termed Australian-style play ensues, in which 2 play against one, the one player invariably serving from the side less affected by sun. Matters are somewhat evened by confining boundaries for the solitary player to singles lines, whereas doubles lines of play are used for the side of two. Clockwise rotation is followed every game.

In the event of 4, conventional doubles are played. Unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, we often rotate partners, so that any given player may play with 3 different partners during the session.

If there are 5, the 5th person sits out, but rotates in after one game, rotation occurring in clockwise fashion. Thus there are always 4 playing and 1 sitting.

If 6, then 4 usually play the best of a miniset of 3 games, and the other 2 wait their turn. After one team of 2 wins, they play the 2 who were not previously participating. The new team always serves, and sides are changed on odd games.

In this situation, no team of 2 plays more than 2 consecutive minisets. And no 2 players have to sit more than a maximum of 3 games (or 2, if one playing team wins 2 consecutive games).

***

While waiting for others, and stretching, I notice a line of ants near the right angle junction of vertical wire fence and horizontal court surface. What they are doing, where they are going, I don’t know, but I observe them, for I’m reminded of admonition in Holy Writ: ‘Go to the ant… consider her ways, and be wise.’ – Prov. 6:6.

I see people walking, some with dogs in tow. Sometimes it seems the people are in tow.

***

A variety of play levels are accommodated. Players are convivial. Play is fair and none gets overly exercised at his own or other’s mistakes. Calls are rarely contested, but, on occasion, points are replayed.

When one player (rarely) breaks a racquet string, if necessary, other players quickly offer an extra racquet.

When play is complete, participants meet at net and congratulate each other by shaking hands or equivalent.

There is no gloating and no put-downs. The momentary opponent may become, in short order, one’s partner.

With time and use, balls wear out, and new cans are opened periodically. Usually more than one player offers to open.

One player saves used balls which he gives to an erstwhile player who volunteers at a canine shelter.

***

No two players play exactly alike. And each has strengths and weaknesses.

One, in his 80s, has had open-heart surgery and wears a cardiac pacemaker. He serves underhand and does not move as well as he once did, but his slice, despite being predictable, is often effective.

Another has bad knees and limited mobility, but his court sense is keen and ball placement uncanny.

Another, tall and lanky, also has a pacemaker.

One has a bad shoulder, another a bad knee.

I myself wear a back brace for sciatica and, having undergone past wrist surgery, wear a wrist brace. I also wear a soft elbow support for tennis (what else?) elbow.

Despite these physical limitations, we keep on keeping on. And, for the duration of play, we can concentrate on an activity that gets the endorphins flowing such that various ailments are forgotten.

***

A reason I always carry a cell phone is to have it in the event a 911 call is needed.

The fellow who has had coronary bypass surgery sometimes stops when serving. Not knowing whether the reason is chest pain, shortness of breath, or something else, I ask him how he is and tell him play need not be continuous. Taking a momentary breather, he always says he’s OK.

One of the other players, the fellow with bad knees, passed out once during a courtside change. Near net, he announced with suddenness, “I don’t feel so well,” then sank to the court surface. I rushed to him, checked his breathing and pulse and, with the help of others, got to him out of the sun, whereupon his eyes gradually descended in their sockets to a familiar place.

Gradually, Bad Knees came to. As I cradled his head, I plied him with water and sliced apple, which female clubhouse employee kindly provided. I advised him to always have breakfast before he came, and/or to bring a protein bar. His wife had had a stroke, and I wondered if, while caring for her, he neglected himself.

My concern is not unfounded, for, another time, he had a similar episode, and ended up in an ER where replenishing IV fluids were administered.

***

There are differences among us, some deep and potentially rancorous. We have learned not to speak of them, or to limit conversation about matters about which we have tacitly agreed to disagree.

We come from various walks of life, and have different educations. One is Greek, another Italian. Asia is represented. A couple of the fellows drive upscale cars: a Mercedes and Jaguar. My reaction is one of happiness at their good fortune.

Those with differences put them aside, at least for the duration of time on court, in pursuit of a greater, common good.

I look forward to the camaraderie, the outdoor exercise, the opportunity to bask in the wondrous warmth and light of the sun, to inhale deeply of air I cannot see, to hear songbirds or spot, high above, a windhover on wing. I am profoundly grateful to be alive and to be able to participate.

***

And, while I don’t want to make too much of this, the thought occurs to me: might this be a precursor to the kingdom of heaven?