I suppose you could substitute any name for tennis player in this title– pianist, botanist, baby – and it will still be accurate. How do we separate someone’s misery in life from the next person’s misery? As I started reading about and researching tennis in Syria the last few years, I was struck by one story in particular.
Aleppo is an ancient Syrian city not far from the capital of Damascus. Something of the center of sports in Syria, a new indoor tennis facility was built in Aleppo in 2008. The Syrian Davis Cup team began to use it as its training facility. The Davis Cup is one of the international competitions, separate from the more high profile professional tennis tours. It is a team competition with men’s, women’s and mixed competitions held around the world. Syria is relegated to the lower level of competition, apart from the sport’s powerhouse countries of Spain, Switzerland, Serbia, England, the U.S. and Australia, and more often competes against Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Iran.
Anyway, last year one of the many anti-government militias launched a bombing attack against an Aleppo Syrian Army base. Stray bombs hit the tennis facility and blew it to smithereens. Oh well, nowhere to play tennis anymore.
When I read that story, I immediately thought of the tennis courts in the city park across the street where I lived as a boy. That park and those tennis courts were a refuge for me. It was where I could always go and feel free of whatever bothered me – run around the perimeter sidewalk track, swing on a swing, smack a tennis ball as hard as I could, run down a ground ball and throw it to first base.
Although our neighborhoods were blighted by racial tension and organized crime, if you had your wits about you as a boy, the park felt safe. Because I lived so close, I always felt safe in that park day or night.
So I’m struck by the awful feeling – what would it have been like to have that park bombed, just a mistake in someone’s else mess, collateral damage in some bigger, incomprehensive conflict?
The Syrian Davis Cup players, Amer Naow, Marc and Bruno Abdelnour, Kareem Allaf and Hasim Naow, are all refugees now. They are not the refugees that we’re hearing about, those desperate to get out of Syria to Turkey, from Turkey to Greece, from Greece to somewhere else. Because they are all from families of dual nationalities or of some financial means, they are living in Egypt, Canada, Lebanon or go to college here in the U.S. But they’re not where they grew up and they can’t walk down the street to play tennis where they could as a teenager.
“At the beginning of the crisis, I thought it would be over pretty soon”, says Marc Abdelnour,”But now we know there will be no end in the near future. Do I see the war ending any time soon? To be honest, no.”
All of the Syrian refugees that we hear about have a story. Some are more dramatic than others. Some involve people on our side of the political spectrum. Some are on the other side. Maybe one of them is a tennis playing teenager whose tennis court in a park all of a sudden becomes the battleground between two factions in a civil war. And his mother had no choice but to leave their home and take him with her.
The children in the little Quaker Meeting that I attend have been making hygiene kits for Syrian refugees. They solicited donations of various articles – toothbrushes, soap, etc. –and put together the kits. Now they are on their way to refuges somewhere in the world. It’s how I can help a fellow tennis player. Not much. Often that’s all we’re called or able to do.
So there you have it. We have empathy when the horrors in the world seem like they could have could have been our life. Something tells us we should try to help. And then we do something to try to help. It could be anything. But we do something.