Let’s just say tennis and I have never had such a strong relationship.
I remember taking the occasional tennis lesson, and being the only eleven-year-old placed in a group with second graders. Because groups were based on ability. And I apparently had the same ability to hit a fuzzy ball back and forth as did these not-yet-double-digit youths who hadn’t learned how to long divide.
Flash forward two years. I’m thirteen years old, still horrendous at this game you call tennis, and in another lesson. A completely different one, with people my own age this time. My partner is this girl I know from school. A girl significantly better at tennis than I. And we are about to start this mini-tournament against the other bratty thirteen-year-olds in our class.
Waiting in line for our turn in the tournament, and completely out of the blue, my partner had a few choice words for me. Words paired with the rolling of the eyes and a hand to a hip, at least in my dramatic retellings of this unfortunate incident. Smugly, she turned to me and exclaimed, “Wow. I’d rather be partners with the wall than you. ‘Cause at least the wall would hit it back.”
Not really the words of encouragement you’re looking for when you’re already insecure about your tennis skills and wasn’t all that thrilled about participating in the first place. Needless to say, I was upset. After it was all over, I got into the car, sunken, defeated. I had become a hater of the sport with the rackets and the skirts and the sweatbands across the foreheads.
But here’s the thing. I’m not upset anymore. In fact, when I think about this encounter, it cracks me up. At least the wall would hit it back. That’s good stuff! A pretty advanced insult for a fellow seventh grader! It actually amazes me that she had the wit and bold carelessness to throw this in the face of her unexpecting and already nervous victim. A kind of sass more admirable than anything else. And it’s even more humorous to think I once believed one’s tennis abilities defined their success as a person. It was such a big deal at the moment, but now...now it’s a golden memory. A memory recalled to seek laughter rather than miserable pity.
There is something incredibly commendable about our ability to change our perspective, our emotions and rationality. And not just because it requires optimism or the ability to push forward in spite of being pushed down. But because we can take these brief moments of defeat a little lighter. Because we can find something funny, and fun, in an experience oh so un-fun. Because it can inspire in others a kind of happiness that unifies in the midst of dividing forces. We laugh at ourselves, and let others laugh, too. Who then laugh at their own mistakes, which are somehow not such a big deal anymore.
There’s a line, of course. Comedy, in its definitive form, capitalizes on imperfections to resonate with and surprise the audience in a pleasing manner. But it can be misused. It can turn sour, have a misguided intent. We must recognize this line and use it to guide our sense of humor. Strengthen it.
Often people scrutinize every action of celebrities. One sentence they say in a televised interview can be replayed and overanalyzed by millions. They can be shamed for offensive content, even if their tone was playful and with good, comedic intentions.
It doesn’t have to be like that. We have the ability to communicate the unspeakables in a manner that rids them of taboo, and understand proper context of commentary. To shift our perspective to make fun appear out of thin air. Have a sense of humor. It’s what’s best about us. What I hope can define us.
I watch as we empower ourselves to discuss the must-not-be-named. I watch as we connect to one another by demonstrating the similarity of our mistakes. I watch as we laugh at ourselves. I watch as our confidence, courage, spirit, attitude, happiness soar.
I watch as the girl with the fierce wit and cruel words pounces on my thirteen-year-old self. My only regret is the lack of popcorn by my side.