This is real delicate, so I am going to dance a bit. I went to a thank-you luncheon today with seven other men, two of their wives and the widow of a man who loved tennis and built a fabulous Har-Tru tennis court. This is a green, sandy surface that is similar to the red clay courts you may have seen.
There are many many men who play there during the summer. It is magnificent: surrounded by trees, the neighing of neighbors’ horses, singing songbirds, sunshine and clean air smells. It’s called Cliff’s Court, and Cliff’s widow, Fran, encourages us to use it, even though Cliff died playing tennis on an indoor court some years ago. She feels it shouldn’t go to waste, and Cliff would want us to enjoy it. She likes seeing us play, and some of us took her out as one way to show our appreciation for her kindness.

This is the second one of these lunches I have attended, and there is always a bit of talk about how grateful we are, and how Cliff loved playing. He was around 85 the day he died, and he had just won his set. He was ecstatic according to players who were there with Cliff his last moments alive. Someone always says it’s not a bad way to go, compared to a long, slow, lingering illness.

Then I heard another story from one of today’s diners, about how he recently had a doubles game and one of the regulars couldn’t make it. So he called a back-up player and invited him to play. This man, 67 years old, was happy to play, even though he had some knee problems. At one point during the game, he complained of some discomfort in his knee, needed to sit down…passed out and turned blue. Someone gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was too late. He also died on the court in the midst of a game he loved, after a set he also had won.

This story affected me acutely, because it reminded me of an incident decades ago, when my ex-wife and I went to Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts to see a dance concert. We hadn’t made a reservation and were frustrated that the local town lodging service couldn’t help us. Then someone in the office remembered a rooming house that had been shut down temporarily, because the owner had been sick and gone to the hospital. This B&B innkeeper was called, asked if she was back open for business, and responded that she was. So we checked in, saw the concert after a nice restaurant meal, and slept in a comfortable room, rather than our car.

When we came down for breakfast in the morning, there was a lot of commotion, an ambulance, crying adult children, and terrible news. The nice elderly innkeeper had died during the night. For over 40 years, I have felt some responsibility for her death. We weren’t the only lodgers who were taken in that night. There were one or two other couples. But we were the first two. And if we hadn’t needed that room so badly, maybe the person in the office wouldn’t have thought of that kindly tired woman who had been sick and wanted to earn a few dollars. Maybe she would have had a week’s more rest to recuperate and lived another 10 years.

So at the luncheon today, I thought of how innocently we affect each others lives. One tennis buddy has a meeting or a cold or wants to see a movie or is held up in traffic. His partner looks for a substitute, just like my friend Frank is doing right now, calling people to see if we can have our scheduled Thursday game, because two of the regulars are either out of town or unavailable. Maybe he finds someone who runs for one wide forehand, over exerts, skips a heartbeat or releases a clot, and…he is gone. Forever. To the tears and sadness of spouse, children, grandchildren.

It’s all so fragile. I heard at least twice today how “Life is Short.” That implies that you don’t have much time to do and enjoy all the pleasures and places that may be there for the taking. Just do it. No matter what the results. And maybe you too will pass on suddenly, and with a smile on your face, and a twinkle in your pained and fading eye…