this summer is the summer of tennis for my wife and me. we don’t play too much, maybe once every 10 days, but that’s about 300% more frequently than we’ve ever played in a summer. that said, a couple of weeks ago, we walked over to our neighborhood tennis courts to play. we had waited a little longer than we should have, since it was already after seven o’clock when we left the house and that pre-twilight phase was quickly approaching. but that didn’t stop us from playing.
past the playground, the sprinklers, the field house, the basketball court, we walked to the farthest court, the one bordered by the busier street right next to the men’s softball league game, put our racquet covers and ball canisters and bags next to the net, and strode out to the baselines to hit back and forth. as we chased the balls and swung our racquets the sun set fully and dusk fell. the softball game continued behind me, with the sharp thud of bat hitting ball, infield sand crunching under feet, and yelps and claps when a runner made a go for a stolen base. the field lights and street lamps threw enough light for us to keep playing, although the ball would disappear from view for a couple of seconds on its way over the net, lost in the glare. regardless, we played on. and I began to notice that I was playing tennis differently, not just with my sight and my body following along, but with my whole body — or at least more parts of my body — attentive and alive to the ball. I was looking intently for the ball when it disappeared into the glare, but I was also listening for it, almost trying to feel the wind of it, feel it bounce on the court. sometimes I would just run in the direction of where I imagined the ball would bounce and trusted that when I swung it would be there.
people and their shadows walked by along the busy street beside us, on the sidewalk behind my wife, their shapes getting darker and denser as the night drew in more deeply. the ball began to glow in the little light that it caught, and disappeared just as quickly. my wife and I took a break for water and considered stopping, but we thought why not just a few more?
and there was strange magic in our night tennis. we played as shadows, in the shadows, running after the shadow of a ball, using our senses and imaginations, not caring about the outcome, the night inviting us into another way of playing.