Tennis, anyone?

We’re on the lam from the Canadian winter, basking in the Florida sunshine, spending time in a rented house where salamanders proliferate in the gardens and snow shovels are nowhere to be seen. For a few weeks we can forget our usual responsibilities and work hard at relaxing.

Since it’s early in the New Year we’re trying to redevelop some good habits – like eating properly, getting enough sleep and taking a daily walk. The neighbourhood we’re in is ideal for the latter. We can make a five kilometre circuit mostly through quiet residential streets – without boots, coats or mittens. Every day we walk past a tennis court.

“We should play tennis sometime,” Jack said one day. “There are racquets in our garage.”

I laughed at the idea, then looking at his face I realized he wasn’t joking.

“You’re not serious!” I said, quite seriously. “You, with your bad back and me, with my fancy feet?”

“We don’t have to kill ourselves,” he said, “Just a nice relaxing game, lobbing the ball back and forth to each other.”

“I suggest you bring a bucket of balls.”

“What for?” he said.

“Come on, don’t you remember? We tried that when we were first married.” He looked at me blankly.

“Pike Lake?” I prompted. “Every time I hit the ball it went over the fence. I was happy just to connect. But after half an hour of fetching it from the parking lot you were red-faced and worn out. Finally you said we were done and it was time to go canoeing.”

We laughed at the memory.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “But you’re older now and the ball probably wouldn’t go so far.”

“Older. Weaker. Still out of control,” I said.

In sync
It’s funny now, but at the time I took it very personally. I admit I took a lot of things personally in those days. I had this notion that we needed to cultivate some kind of common interest to keep our relationship fresh. At the time we didn’t even have our work in common. Jack was just starting out on the farm and I had an office job at the local nursing home. He often played tennis with his cousin and came home sweaty and happy. I thought it would be a great hobby for us as a couple.

Sometimes I have good ideas. This wasn’t one of them.

I recall fretting about it for a long time afterward. He could have been more patient with me, I thought. I never considered that it must have been a chore chasing my wild shots over the fence, especially since he and his cousin were so equally matched and played well together.

I knew he loved me. I never doubted his commitment. But, I wondered, what would make him like me? What would make him want to spend his time with me – not just the rest of his life, but as much of the rest of his life as possible?

I could have saved myself the worry. Walking along the sidewalk together now, usually hand in hand, steps in sync, I realize my early fears and frustrations were groundless and petty. In the years since then a host of common interests have presented themselves. We had the essentials – like raising our kids, making a living, participating in church life and school communities. Beyond that we discovered mutual interests in things like politics, theology and motorcycles. Most of it required considerable effort, but none of it had to be forced.

Somewhere along the line we came to the point of completing each other’s sentences (not always accurately, mind you, and that can really make it interesting). We have sufficient differences to keep it lively and enough independence not to worry if the other person takes up something on his or her own. As life goes on every passing year gives us more and more in common with each other. And there’s never a dull moment.

Alongside
Years ago I remember asking a guest speaker at our Young Couples’ Club what he would recommend to foster spiritual growth in married couples. His answer stuck with me.

“Think of your marriage as a triangle,” he said, using his hands to illustrate. “You and your spouse are here, at opposite corners of the base. And the Lord is the apex. As long as you’re both headed toward him, you automatically come together. You may travel at different speeds sometimes, but as long as the direction is the same, you can’t help but grow closer.”

Jack still thinks we should try tennis again. We’ll see about that. If nothing else, it could provide material for a future column. Meanwhile, I’m happy to keep walking with him – hand in hand or arms swinging freely, but always in the same direction.

  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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