06 Nov A lesson from Emma
It was a nice summer afternoon, just another tennis tournament in yet another city. Standard routines were on: arriving on site, walking around facilities, getting acquainted with the officials, booking the practice, saying hello to very familiar faces and exchanging the usual questions like: “When did you arrive”, or “Where are you staying”, etc., which, by the way, I stopped asking in the meantime; I am currently in the process of making up new ones. Everything seemed very ordinary and usual, except one lady, she was different. Nicer, warmer, just different. Her name was Emma (for this story).
Emma was one of many wonderful people who work as volunteers at tennis tournaments and do their very best to make the players feel well and welcome. We had a very pleasant first conversation where she explained, with a big smile on her face, everything that we needed to know for the next couple of days. We all immediately felt Emma’s caring personality and special energy that was simply radiating around the room.
As the tournament went on, I made sure to stop by Emma’s desk every day and exchange a couple of nice words, absorb some of her positive energy and go on with my daily routine. Every time I thought to myself: “wow, what a nice and happy lady”.
At the end of the week, there I was at my last day on site, eating my dinner. The restaurant was almost empty. After I finished eating, I went to say goodbye to Emma. Of course, she welcomed me with a beautiful smile and stepped out from her desk for a quick chat:
“How do you like coaching Nick? You must be really good at it, coming here every year coaching the best players in the world. Do you have a family? Oh, I’m sure your wife misses you a lot. You know, I had a daughter.” (Past tense cut me like a razor).“She was the happiest woman in the world. She was married to a great man, lived in a country that she loved, doing the job that she had always been dreaming about. She died a few months ago. She called me from a waiting room of the hospital where she went for a routine check-up and that was the last time I heard her voice. Couple of hours later, she died. I’m saying this to you just as a reminder that you deserve to live your life to the fullest, do what you really like and spend time with the people you love, because you never know what tomorrow has in store for you.”
I was completely petrified and shaken to the core!
As she was saying these words, one of the players came along, together with her coach. They came to say goodbye as they were leaving the site. A thought came running through my mind.
There was one of the best tennis players in the world with her coach standing right next to me, but my mind was elsewhere. I mean, those people are, beyond any doubt, the role models of success. Every single day I work so hard to become a coach like him and to be able to coach a player like her, and I looked at them with all the respect they deserve, but right now they simply paled in comparison to Emma. Wait, do I have the right goals in my life?
This woman experienced the biggest pain a human being can feel and yet she is the kindest, warmest, most generous person in the world with the most genuine smile that just never leaves her face. Shouldn’t she be my real role model?
This is the message I sent to Emma the next day:
“Hi Emma, I’m on my way to the airport. I am still thinking about your story and it looks like it’s going to stay with me for a long time. I feel like I’m already a different person. I know it sounds a little naïve, but believe me, I’ve been doing my work on the meanings of life and I feel that I was ready for a story like yours to hit me hard and make me want to change something with my life.
I can’t tell you how much I respect you and how much you deserve only nice and happy times. After our conversation I called my wife, my mum and 2 of my friends and shared your story with them. I know it doesn’t help to bring you daughter back or ease your pain, but it will definitely help others, me included, to go through life with more peace of mind. Thank you, Emma, for being different, for being a role model, for being so inspiring and for showing me what a real strength is. I will be in touch and see you soon.
Your friend Nick”
The lesson that Emma was trying to teach me is that if she can lead such a fulfilling life despite her heartbreak, so can I, so can anybody. She was trying to say that we really don’t know what tomorrow brings and we really don’t have any time to lose. I know, I`ve heard words like these many times before, but did I really change something in my life? Why do we always have to wait for something bad to happen to wake us up? Are we just measuring life by hours, minutes, schedules and rush, or are we supposed to be living it? I mean really living it, one breath at a time. Isn`t this powerful story a striking wake-up call?
My personal race for success sometimes truly goes through a long tunnel without windows. What I can promise to myself is that I will do my best to remind myself of Emma’s story from time to time and remember to always smile, no matter how hard my day is. Just like she does. Every single day. Bear in mind that nothing you wear is more important than your smile. Because it can truly change somebody else`s life.