When does a pastime, that little thing that adds extra enjoyment to life, become an essential part of one’s life? When does it move from being parsley on the side of the plate to being a course on its own?
Most everyone has something: collecting, a sport, an art. It starts as moments when one escapes the greater concerns of the world, the have to’s, the pressures, so that we can be ourselves without societal nudging. Pretty soon, such activities go from luxuries to necessities of life, a battery recharge that not only brings renewed energy but actual joy to life.
For Jiab and me, that is tennis. When we first met, I played racquetball and Jiab was a life-long tennis player. It’s hard to maintain both, so she made it clear that if only one of our sports was to continue, well, you can guess the rest.
Ever since, tennis has been an essential in our lives. It relieves tension and brings us together (mostly, with some post-match evenings where it’s best if we don’t communicate for a bit). We played in USTA tournaments, both separate and together (and winning, even though we then had to choose between Jiab’s wanting a gift certificate prize with my desire for a trophy). Jiab found a couple of friends who regularly got together to play. I found a local tennis center and joined a team. The tem wasn’t that great, but I formed lasting friendships and lost count of the laughs and joy (between cussings and “You’ve got to be kidding in calling that out” stares). Part of the reason we picked the townhome that was our last Dallas residence was because it came with two community tennis courts.
So, when we moved to Spain, the land of Rafael Nadal, we assumed we would continue our “courting.” Rafa even won one of his first youth tournaments in Granada.
But as we keep learning and saying, Spain isn’t the US.
There are fewer public courts in Spain. Compare that our local tennis center in Dallas had 15 courts; the biggest tennis center in Granada has 4. Two of those courts are hard-court like we are used to, but the other two are best described as simulated clay court conditions, where one plays on carpet covered in a thin layer of sand. Mostly, the Spanish seem taken with paddle ball, which is a kind of mini-tennis played on a court half the length of a tennis court. Trust me, it’s just not the same.
With all that our new home had, you’d think we could do without one little pastime. We had hiking like never before, history one can’t find in the US, and just the whole entire newness of it all.
Yet, we came to miss tennis…especially Jiab. She and I would play occasionally, but to Jiab’s credit, she openly told me it was not enough. I need a little pushing some days to get out on the court, and Jiab missed playing against a variety of styles.
So, in the midst of our exploration of this grand new world, we added a mini-exploration (gamers would call it an essential side-quest) to reconnect with tennis. It has taken effort, as information is not easily available; there is no organized municipal web-site to speak of. Private tennis clubs (and the only leagues) are usually on the edge of town, an hour bus ride there, an hour bus ride back, all to play for one hour. There is an old private country club nearby we checked out, and while the prices are inexpensive by American country club standards, it’s pricey for here, and we (as we discovered in Dallas) aren’t country club people who take advantage of all the amenities membership affords.
We made being near our 4-court public tennis center a priority in finding a new apartment, even if it limited the search. We also started being bold, walking over to people playing on other courts to talk with them, asking if they wanted to hit or if they knew of groups. It was like crossing the room to ask a stranger to dance…in a foreign language!
The good news is that we are slowly discovering, even helping to grow, the tennis community here. We’ve made new friends, both locals and expats, in this “courtship,” and have found a wonderful tennis clinic for locals that we now regularly attend (learning new Spanish terms when we aren’t just following everyone else). Most recently, we traveled 40 minutes by bus to a small pueblo to meet up with a group that does a two-hour round-robin of doubles every weekend. We are the oldest by 20 – 30 years, and definitely the only non-locals, but we all laughed together and they said they hoped we came back.
This may all seem trivial. Tennis is just a leisure-sport. Certainly, there are many (most) others in the world with far greater problems than missing a fun diversion (the word for “fun” in Spanish is divertido).
I would contend, however, that in some ways this is about one of the most important choices for those lucky enough to have such resources can make: between being and living.
When I taught, I used to remind students that sea anemones (the creatures that for the most part attach themselves to a fixed spot and wait for food to come to them) rarely did well in school. Such creatures could, potentially, starve while plentiful food lay just outside their tentacled reach. I used this to admonish students to take charge of their studies. Miss a day, then go find out what you missed; if you don’t understand something, go ask the teacher.
Waiting for the good stuff to come to you (when you have the ability and resources to move), is not a great long-term plan. And, as a student approaches school, so too do they form habits for life.
In Dallas, there are so many facilities, and we had so many friends and tennis connections, we had to choose the days we said “no” to tennis. Now, we were in Spain, and with being inundated with all new good things (travel, hiking) and challenges (sorting out the bureaucracy, trying to communicate), we were compelled to decide if tennis was important enough for us to make the effort, to move from the spot the currents had deposited us.
Such a decision is not limited to tennis, of course. We know an artistic couple from the States who have relocated to a very small town. She is a painter, but it is important enough that she dedicated one room of their tiny apartment to be a studio and has to regularly travel to get supplies. He is a singer and has joined the local church (not that he considers himself a believer) to be part of a choral group.
Even for those who don’t expat, the being/living decision arises when things change, when the once convenient no longer is so. Children grow up and move away, as do friends, and it now takes effort to stay connected.
One has to decide if that part of one’s life is important enough to make that effort. Our family now lives on three continents. Last month, Jiab traveled to Japan to visit one of our sons (a 30-hour travel sojourn). This month, I will travel to Chicago to be with our other one. And after negotiations that were like a three-country treaty, we all coordinated schedules to be in Dallas together for New Year’s.
It takes time, effort, and yes, money. But there used to be products that advertised themselves as costing more, “but worth it.” We feel the same way about certain things that aren’t just IN our lives, but MAKE our lives worthwhile. For me, family and tennis (at least my game) have moments of love at their core, and I’m always willing to move my tentacles and butt for that.