One of the roles I cherish is that of “coach.” For over thirty years I have been fortunate enough to have people who want to learn and choose me to be a part of their journey. I never take this lightly. And maybe the moments mean more having lost the ability to do it as much as I would like.
In one of my quiet rituals, I arrive long before the time I am set to teach. These spaces may seem artificial but it allows time for stillness, planning, reflecting, and spontaneity. Where I teach is as sweet a setting as one could find. It is quiet. There is a view of a lake, beautiful trees all around, and a path where neighbors pass with two-legged or four-legged friends. And the birds come in shifts and I appreciate their songs…
The spontaneity… Many a connection and good conversation have happened with me parked on the bench.
One day a friend pulled up, unloaded a basket of tennis balls and headed to a neighboring court. We shared a greeting from afar. I had about twenty minutes before my lesson and I soaked up the view and glanced over at my friend to see what he was up to. He had a lesson as well but kept looking my way. Intuitively I sensed he wanted to talk and moments later we were side by side.
This gentleman—and truly he was a kind and gentle man—filled me in on what was happening in his life. Apparently, he’d had a nagging cough and one day he coughed up blood. Shortly thereafter he learned he had stage four lung cancer. A fit, happy, vibrant man one day and the next…
We stayed on the bench and talked some more. He tried his best to reassure me. He was in a good place, had some good response to a new treatment, and he was optimistic. His spirit was bright and strong. The bench felt good.
Months passed and I spent little time on that bench because of my own challenges. Over a year later I was walking up to the courts and spotted familiar faces. Everything felt good: the smells, sounds, and sights of a familiar space. Mid-game an old friend greeted me. It has been a while and we talked through the fence like a confessional—one of the odd rituals of the courts. We got around to our friend—for he was well known here and well-loved.
He had died a few months ago.
The bench felt different. While licking our own wounds life goes on. And sometimes we miss things. I will miss the unwavering spirit of my friend. And remember how he tried to comfort me through his pain and suffering. Courageous and caring…. I hope at some point when he finds the time, he joins me again for a chat on the bench.
Rest in Peace, CB.
Photo by J.C. Panepinto