Remembering Rob Schmidt with an Afternoon of Tennis Doubles

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Beautiful Saturday afternoon on October 13. Sixty plus of all sorts, ages and backhands filled 13 courts for fun-doubles. Rob would be pleased with the large number of junior, and often better, players who participated. His friends and college teammates sent souvenirs and Smileys for prizes. This event outdrew the Club’s Doubles Championship.

Memories fade fast as life must go on. Most of us are better for having known Rob; several of us are better as a result of his passing in an honest, forbidden sort of way. That energy is neither created nor destroyed is accurate even amongst humans. My recollection will be the curiosity of how loss can establish connection. Like, right!

Summer in the City. Or at least Durham, pop. 233,252.

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Why does the mid-point of July feel as though summer is near the end of the ride? After all, nature’s summer is only three weeks begun. Is it because lives of parents are modulated by the schedules of their children and schools in North Carolina resume in late August? Upshot is that instead of diligently plotting my work week on a Sunday afternoon, I crept to the invisible fence of my office perimeter, jumped over when no one was looking (I was home alone) and drove to the tennis club. 80 degrees, bright sunshine, beautiful cloud patterns, sounds of the swimming pool in the background of court 10 and practiced my serves. Home for cava & creme de casis cocktails = Kir Royale? even if not French champagne?! My kind of summer Sunday.

What I’m resisting writing is the death of a 29 year old friend eight days ago. He moved from Toronto so that his funny and smart wife could take advantage of a nursing program at Duke University. They loved our weather; the small town and gritty aura of Durham; not so fond of the conservative vibe across North Carolina. I met him at our tennis club where he taught lessons. He was especially fond of, with a clear aptitude for, teaching children.

Aside from our nearly weekly lesson, we met several times to discuss if and how this relocation to Durham – a five year PhD program for Liz- might provide him the opportunity to change careers or to pursue intently a tennis teaching career. We drove around the RTP talking to other Canadians, meeting local entrepreneurs and smaller business owners. He determined that even though he would be ok doing something else, he wanted to figure-out how to begin his own tennis academy. Step one would be to spend this summer shepherding the youth tennis team to local and statewide tournaments. Careful and methodical was he, indeed.

None of this came to pass. Feeling ill on a Thursday, he entered the hospital on the following Sunday. One week of tests revealed no clear cause. He returned home on Sunday, reentered the hospital on Tuesday and died of septic shock on Monday July 9th – which I will forever associate with Roger Federer’s victory at Wimbledon the day before. Our last communication, an email, told me that he was back at the Duke Medical Center, outlook was positive and that he watched more tennis (Wimbledon) than he has in a long time.

Our tennis club and their friends from Duke rallied on short notice with a generosity of spirit and gifts (raised $7,500.00 for an emergency fund) as Americans are somehow and curiously unique to do. Where did we cultivate this innate willingness to help near-strangers?!

Rob was buried at home on Saturday, 14 July, Bastille Day. I’m sure that this association with France didn’t mean much to him, but I will always associate this holiday with his final resting (he joins Jill on that day).

I miss him in ways that I’ve never missed anyone that I’ve known to pass away before me. I’ve received many notes this year about the demise of classmates from high school and college. Such notice is always saddening; Rob’s departure is tragic for me.

I’ve kept a New York Times article on my desk for over 3 months. The author recommends that one reflect on how one wishes one’s life to end. Not the means but accumulated purpose. I want to do this..I think. Especially that I am now 60; particularly that I’ve agreed with my employer to join a Transition to Retirement Program which permits me to work for them on an average of three days per week. By the way (funny to write this out and not put down BTW), I am not ready for the early bird special at the cafeteria. I’m just not ready to feel or act ‘retired.’ This is not ’60 is the new 40′ or some such. I’m motivated to continue working full time both by need and desire.

I presume that my life transitions, sixty and the TTR Program, influence my reaction to Rob’s death. I know that life is ephemeral. And there is much about him that I do not know. We didn’t share secrets or plot global domination of any sort. I guess, or hope, that we genuinely enjoyed one another’s company where we were able to switch from him being the tennis coach (admonition to ‘finish the swing’ and to focus on ‘length’ and ‘tempo’) to me being the career coach with contacts in the area (‘you can do anything that you want’).

I’m better today. I miss him. I accept that he’s gone. I’m mindful of what he taught me. I’m, like, a better person for the experience of knowing Rob.