Reflections

Previously published by The News-Press

"Today, it seems there is more of the world behind us than ahead of us...(so) it's more important to savor each moment."

"Winning the point isn't important. True victory is to recapture that youthful joy."

Another day in paradise

Published in The News-Press on 2/26/12

 

The sun is peeking over the palms, painting golden hues over the hibiscus, bougainvillea and bauhinia orchid trees.

 

The night chill is evaporating in the tropical breeze and the egrets and anhingas are spying breakfast at the pond. 

 

Throughout Southwest Florida, it’s Saturday morning in paradise.  

 

My husband, Randy, and I pull up to the tennis courts at our Grandezza community, eager for hours of strokes, sprints and sweat. As usual, we’re the first players, greeting tennis pro Lanny Kalpin and his assistant Zack Tidler as they finish grooming the courts.  

 

We had played off and on for years but never as avidly as we have here. As a young teen, I recall riding my bike miles across Chicago to meet pals at city courts. We didn’t have much, but we delighted in whacking balls across sagging nets and cement cracks, our minds and bodies synchronized with a fierce intensity. We could run all day, and we had the world ahead of us.

 

We didn’t know then that one would lose his brother to cancer at age 16; that one would be disowned by his Chinese family for marrying a Caucasian; that one would, remarkably and happily, end up as publisher of a media company in Florida. 

 

Today, it’s a little harder to run the way we used to. Today, it seems there is more of the world behind us than ahead of us.  So today, it’s so much more important to savor each moment. That’s why so many of us are here in Southwest Florida, isn’t it?

 

Whatever our sport, hobby or passion, we bask in each sunny day and its promise.  Our tennis community at Grandezza is a splendid microcosm of the region: mostly retired part-timers, but also semi-retired entrepreneurs, young parents, and worker bees like me, with careers ranging from CEOs to teachers and electricians.

 

The average age is mid-60s, but the average mindset is mid-40s, thanks to the tennis and weather that keeps us mentally and physically ageless. Some are just learning, while others are skilled and move astonishingly well. Some inspire us all. 

 

There’s Warren Courville, the eldest of the group at 81 (though no one gives him an inch). A retired orthopedic surgeon and cancer survivor who grew up playing golf, he’s on the courts 3-4 days a week.

 

“Golf is all socializing. No exercise,” he says. In tennis, “you run! The exercise is spectacular.  You have to be active. I feel much better when I play than when I don’t.  And these kids are the nicest people,” he says, referring to the rest of us 50 and 60 and 70 year olds. 

 

Rosie Kraft, a teacher and Realtor, decided to get serious about tennis last November at age 68 because people were having such fun and she wanted a challenge. Her goal was to get good enough to buy herself a tennis skirt. Well, she got the skirt and the next week won a doubles tourney in her bracket, on court one no less. “I was scared to death,” she said.  “I thought I’m too old to do this, but I’m not, and I can.” 

 

And there’s John Franchini, 70, a retired captain of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City who pours his heart into every stroke, often followed by loud outbursts. “On the court, there’s a great feeling of freedom, the endurance of playing hard. It makes me feel like I’m still 20,” he says.

 

John acknowledges he has no tennis etiquette. But that’s because “I have high standards for myself. It’s a challenge to play with people who make you want to do better. I get mad because I know I can do better than this.”  

 

I can relate. It’s not that I’m more competitive than others. (Much.) My problem is that I equate losing to failure, in all aspects of my life. When Randy and I play, he’s working on his strokes; I’m working to demolish him. There’s little savoring going on. He usually progresses. I usually get cranky. So when I play with him, we declare up front that it’s a tie. When I play with others, I tend to choke on my internal pressures. 

 

But as I’ve been learning doubles, I’m also learning, slowly, to savor the game and the opponents, the chess match with four moving pieces. Winning the point isn’t important. True victory is to recapture that youthful joy when you felt the whole world was ahead of you. Because it still is. 

 

Warren grunts and gets another slice pass me, then flashes a wicked smile. 

 

A giant grey heron soars nonchalantly overhead. Another day in paradise.

 

Editor's note: Warren Courville passsed away July 14, 2015 at age 84, still smoking his cigars, playing poker and cracking jokes to the end.

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© 2015 by Mei-Mei Chan Kirk