I have lots of favorite days every year. Rachel’s birthday, Jake’s return from summer break, 46118 Christmas... They’re all beautiful days for me every year.
Today is always the worst.
My mom died on October 1, 2005.
Rachel and I bought a car that day. It’s the first and only new car either of us have ever owned. We drove to my parents’ house where Rachel, my dad and I talked about the car, discussed my new job at Brebeuf and had as normal a conversation as is possible when someone is dying of cancer in the big bedroom.
My dad and I spent part of the afternoon in that bedroom talking about our plans for the next stage of Mom’s care. We came to some decisions and made sure Mom was warm; shared some laughs and tears and rubbed Mom’s feet and arms; we talked about how well we could manage to continue making good choices for her and discussed how we could take care of each other.
A couple hours later, Dad called to tell me Mom was dead. My initial thought was confusion; I didn’t know what he meant. When he repeated himself (I’m so sorry I needed him to say it a second time…), I squealed. I groaned. I uttered a primal, urgent sound that I’ve never heard before or since. It was the sound of my soul being sucked out of my body.
I was on autopilot as I drove back to Mills Road and I sped as though I could somehow manage to hold on to something of my mother if I just arrived quickly enough.
The last thing I clearly remember from that entire day was thinking how mad Mom would be if I killed myself driving recklessly on 465.
I think I slowed down.
In the intervening decade, I’ve lived a wonderful life. The gifts of love I’ve received have blessed me beyond measure. The heartbreaks of living have reminded me how much I continue to love the people in my life.
Can we show some love for Venus Williams? Please? PLEASE!
No, really. Let’s stop to think about her career. Venus is one of the 10 greatest players in the history of women’s tennis. Seven Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals, a revolutionary combination of power, speed and athleticism and so much more. Yet she’s barely an afterthought these days. BECAUSE HER LITTLE SISTER IS THE GOAT!
Before Serena ruled the world, Venus was the one in the vanguard. It was Venus who started living out the experiments of the mad tennis scientist, Richard Williams. Venus was the trailblazer who first wore the beaded braids, first broke down the doors of the country club, first survived the slings and arrows of (thinly veiled) racism, first informed the world that Black girls from the ‘hood could be any damn thing they wanted. That was Venus.
It was also Venus who sheltered, shepherded and protected the true Golden Child, Serena, from the media, jealous players and even the mad scientist. She was the caretaking nurturer who made the more delicate Serena secure. It was Venus who suffered loss after loss so graciously. Remember the first Serena Slam from more than a decade ago? Guess who the finalist was, all four times. Venus kept losing to Serena, watching her place in history usurped by her baby sister. While smiling and taking pictures.
When women in tennis won their fight for equal prize money, it was Venus who was at the forefront of that movement. When both Venus and Serena took time away from their sport to pursue other passions, it was Venus who made the public statements, responded to the carping legends and diffused the tension.
While everyone, including me, applauds Roger Federer for his slow, graceful descent from Mount Olympus, please recognize that he’s still the second best player in the world! His tumble has been relatively easy. Venus has fallen from the heights to a far less appealing plane. Now she’s consistently ranked in the 20s, struggling to make even quarterfinals at big events, and has downshifted from ‘Favorite’ to ‘Contender’ to ‘Darkhorse’ to ‘Legend’. Despite her battle with the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, Venus still competes against players she inspired as toddlers. All with inordinate class.
So, regardless of how Venus finishes this US Open tournament and her career, I want to take a moment to acknowledge one of the unappreciated greats of the modern athletic and cultural universe.