Today is Roger Federer’s 40th birthday. He’s just a few weeks older than my daughter. Forty is still quite young. I blazed past that milestone without missing a beat. Of course I’m not a world class athlete. Federer’s career, which spans two decades, has been an essentially injury-free experience. He’s had some back issues but mostly, he’d been healthy up until a few years ago when a knee injury knocked him out of competition. He rehabbed for 6 months and came blazing back to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon that year. But, along with the pandemic came two more knee surgeries, lots of rehab and few matches. He returned to the court in 2021 with mixed results. Now he’s withdrawn from more tournaments. I’m wondering whether he’s going to call it a career.
Why does Roger matter? Well, I’ll tell you. He’s been playing for twenty years now. During that time I watched him knock off lots of talented players who I enjoyed watching before he showed up. I’ve always loved to watch tennis. I’m fascinated by those individuals who depend only on themselves to achieve success in this challenging game. I tend to choose benign addictions like sports, books and movies, rather than alcohol and drugs. Anyway, as Federer evolved, I was fascinated by his balletic grace. He’s beautiful to watch. And as he grew up, I admired his being self-contained, rarely having temper tantrums, never making excuses for losing. He was nice. Modest while still being extremely competitive. As his career advanced, his philanthropic work increased. He cries unapologetically. He loves his wife and kids. What’s not to like? I have a big streak of loyal in me. So Roger’s been my escape, my entertainment, my happy place. Watching him play has brought me relief in my darkest times, like when Michael was so dreadfully sick and I’d be up in the night, eyes glued to tournaments on the other side of the world, exhausted but soothed by this stranger who is like a friend. After Michael died, I sat around trying to figure out what I still wanted to do with my life. Seeing Roger in the flesh was high on my list. In 2018, I saw him twice, wriggling through the crowd to be close enough to see him sweat. I’m so glad I did.
In these continually challenging times, I, an inveterate planner, was keenly aware that Roger wasn’t going to be around forever, and so selected his successor, a young Greek player who exhibits some characteristics that remind me of the tennis types I’ve always liked, like Borg, Sampras and Roger, thr civilized players as opposed to the short-fused who are not my style. Still, I’m really sad to lose my favorite. I’ve already lost my life favorite and that fact is my sidekick every single day.
The ad above keeps popping up on my Facebook feed. I don’t need this service to sum up the past ten years in photos. The Before, which ended for me in spring, 2012, when Michael was diagnosed with his orphan cancer, is the time period I prefer to the nine years in The After, which were packed with illnesses, cancer treatments and death, with the sprinklings of happiness that help us survive hard times. Hard times indeed. I willingly admit that my outsized reaction to not being able to watch Federer, correlates directly with the incessant news cycle drumbeats of all that lays beyond my control. More dangerous Covid variants, waning immunization efficacy over time, stubborn anti-vaxxers whose need to feel free, outweighs any sense of personal responsibility to their communities. I realized yesterday that I’ve spent one-third of the time since Michael’s death dealing with the cycles of the pandemic. No wonder I feel blue. As if grief isn’t hard enough. And how about the fires raging across the planet, the muddy floods surging through cities, the early unexpected storms and yet, the terrible drought? What was today, in a headline from the United Nation’s report on climate change, referred to as “code red for humanity?” And lest we forget, in the U.S., what about everything else that is unresolved? I can begin with the dystopian attempts to toss out the legitimate election results from 2020. Absent that madness, we now have the efforts of the minority party to ensure that never again will the massive number of minority voters who voted in 2020, have the chance to cast those many ballots again. Then there are those Republicans who choose to look at the January 6th insurrection as a patriotic love fest. I mean, really? We have documentary evidence. Does that matter? Those machinations are intended to push this country back to the nineteenth century with an authoritarian twist. I’m trying to keep my inner Nietzschean tendencies but I think I’m failing. I’m getting stuck in “what’s the point?”
Months ago, when I got vaccinated, I figured I might grab a chance at another vacation, a visit to an iconic national park I’d never seen, Yellowstone. Before Covid, I’d planned to try to reach for as many unrealized dreams Michael and I thought we’d work our way through during retirement. I’d do it with him tucked away in my back pocket, spurring me on to squander no time as long as I have it. Just a few months ago, I carefully planned a straightforward, albeit taxing trip to knock this treasured park off my list. Unlike the Alaska trip I canceled last year, this is a compressed-do-it-all-see-it-all schedule that for the most part seemed a shorter reasonable stretch during these uncertain days. But alas, part of those full days includes being aboard completely booked shuttles with bunches of people I don’t know. When I thought my vaccinations made me good to go, that wasn’t a huge issue. That’s not considered accurate any more. We now have breakthrough infections, not by the thousands, at least so far, but breakthroughs nonetheless. Going out west where vaccinations aren’t as common as they are at home is a concern. We all face risks of illness and always have as participating members of society. But this nasty Delta variant is a whole other ball game. Every day, more bits of information trickle out which cause me to feel as indecisive as I’ve ever felt in my life. My choices feel out of my hands and more in the control of people who are diametrically opposed to my point of view on virtually everything from vaccines, to climate change to voting rights. Is it really so important for me to go to Yellowstone if I wind up rubbing shoulders and perhaps exchanging droplets with the twain I have no desire to meet? I’m all out of patience with these people. I’m too old to coax anyone to my viewpoint. The world’s burning and I’m watching a guy in his hospital bed, just having survived a tough bout with Covid, tell a reporter that he’d rather get sick all over again rather than get vaccinated. Maybe if he contracts it again, he won’t have the chance to be so stupid. But does he have to drag other people down with him? I just can’t go there.
Like a boat out of hell: Evacuated Greek locals watch in horror from safety of rescue ship as wildfires tear through their paradise island home of Evia
The existential crisis of our time is and has been climate change for decades. After watching Belgian and German towns with their streets awash in rushing, speeding mud, carrying away everything in front of it, the blazes decimating Turkey and Greece surge into the headlines. Greece was once going to be the big trip for Michael and me. Now I fear the potential devastation of the ancient treasures at risk of flames. I sit around wondering uselessly, fruitlessly, whether Al Gore, whose election was stolen, would have made the difference in slamming the brakes on what is now upon us. He was far from perfect but I can imagine a different world had he been elected. I know there’s no going back. I know I won’t be here if our “code red” warning is shunted off to the side as it has been in the past. But I worry for my children and grandchildren.
Maybe if I mask with my favorite octopus over another paper one, some of this wily animal’s intelligence and guile will seep into my flattened decisive abilities and rejuvenate me. I need to stop dithering and do what I can do without regrets, one way or another. I’m hoping to find a little more in my reservoir of mostly depleted energy, to deal with the uncertainty of this virus and find a way to impact the political issues. Time to get back in the streets. Socially distanced, of course. Demonstrations help.