Yesterday, at LONG last, I played my first tennis match of the summer with my favorite opponent, Dave Krueger. Life just got in the way until now, but I am still sad and disgusted with myself that I allowed a whole month to go by without even touching a racket, a month that I can’t get back. The first match is usually a bit of a disaster for me- I’m already huffing and puffing just from taking the balls out of the can… I’m hitting my backhand like I’m recovering from shoulder surgery… my footwork looks like I left my walker back at the rest home…. you get the idea. This time, however, wonder of wonders, I felt pretty good. I was still very rusty, but physically I felt better than I did all of last summer. It may partly be that I’ve cut my soda consumption down to maybe 1/3 of what it was- and I think all of the brisk walking in Chicago the day before probably benefited me as well. All the same, I lost 6-2. . . and then lost a tie breaker 7-4. . . but I felt like I was a fairly respectable opponent for Dave and that I didn’t need to walk off the court with a bag over my head.
I feel so fortunate to have Dave to play with, because having just the right opponent is such a tricky matter. You want someone who is comparable to you in ability, if not equal – and if they’re a little worse than you, they need to be interesting – and if they’re a little better than you, they need to be compassionate. Otherwise, the matches tend to be either tremendously boring or tremendously depressing. Playing Dave is only fun – even when I am on the short end of a 6-2 set.
Our respective strengths. . . Dave is a MUCH MUCH better athlete than I am. (Most people with two arms and two legs are.) He was a superb baseball player in high school – and a very good runner in track as well – and is still quite the speed demon on the court, as well as one of the best softball players on Holy Communion’s team. On the other hand, he hasn’t played a ton of tennis over the years, so he is somewhat inexperienced in the game. I come at it as someone who has watched the game a ton, played quite a bit over the years – and who walks on the court with one and only one truly solid shot. . . a very good serve. Too bad I can’t follow it up with anything decent except desire and occasional spurts of luck which translate into a few games. And once in a GREAT while I will actually pull out a set or two. But that tends only to happen if Dave has just gotten out of the hospital for gall bladder surgery – or if he’s forgotten his glasses at home. But hey, a win is a win.
Let me say a word about Dave, who is more than a good tennis opponent for me. He is also a really great human being- the kind of human being one would be tempted to clone, because the world would be a much much better place if there were more people like him in it. First of all, he is in the trenches as a social worker, and who has a tougher road than they do? He is a devoted husband and father. He is also one of those rather rare athletes who is also a musician- He was a fine trumpeter and is still a good singer and a faithful member of the senior choir. He is also a cancer survivor.
AND he is someone who is not afraid to do what needs to be done. Just before our Tuesday tennis match, I had lunch with a good friend, who will remain nameless. When I told him where I was headed right after lunch, he said that Dave has been an incredibly helpful friend to him – and that in particular Dave has come to his aid when he found himself in some really awful and awkward predicaments. Not only does Dave come whenever called, but has this marvelous way of giving help in a rather straightforward, no-nonsense, yet compassionate way that preserves the other person’s dignity and makes the moment as comfortable as it could possibly be. That has to be an exceedingly rare gift- and what a difference it has made in this person’s life. When I heard this description of Dave, it made me want to write to Oprah and say that the next time they do a program about non-famous day in and day out heroes, Dave Krueger should be exhibit A. And what makes Dave an even more impressive hero is that such recognition is the last thing he would ever want. He does not do his good deeds for any gain- or any fame- but simply because he is a good person.
And that’s why I don’t mind losing to him 6-2. I’m honored just to be on the same tennis court- and to call him a friend.