I’ve been playing table tennis ever since I could see over the table. I held my paddle pencil-style and was barely able to return the ball over the net. Now my matches are intense with the pings and pongs reverberating off the walls. The rapid exchange of shots stops only when I make the mistake of floating a slow shot high in the air, and my opponent slams it down for the win. The game requires me to react on instinct and leaves my heart pounding and my mind amazed, but it had never been more than just a game until my uncle died.
My uncle taught me his paddle grip, his favorite shot, and his signature serve, and as a disciple I mimicked what I was taught. His life reached a high point when he won immigration visas to America for his family. I rejoiced when I met with my mentor for the first time in four years. But then he was diagnosed with cancer and died weeks later. For next month I sulked and responded to everything with an unimpassioned sigh. Even when I played the heated game, my paddle moved with the same sluggishness.
One day a few months later, my cousin called me and asked if I wanted to play some table tennis. I accepted his cheery invitation with an uninspired, “Yeah, sure.” But as I ended the conversation with my cousin, I realized that his father had died, and I was the one still depressed. I found new energy when I played with him later in the day, but something else happened. The ball came off my cousin’s paddle with the wrong spin and hung the air. I began the motion for a forehand slam as my uncle had taught me, but I stopped. Instead I used a backhand, shooting the ball past my cousin who stood frozen on his heels. He didn’t notice anything more than just a good shot, but I saw it; it was something different.
Table tennis changed that day. It was no longer a game; it became my game. From that ditch of depression I rose and seized the opportunity not only to win the point but also to define myself. I understand now that my uncle didn’t mold me to be a copy of him, but in his last lesson, his death, he wanted me to change. I am my new game, changed and defined. Now that I have changed, I know the world must change; everyone must bounce back from losses different, stronger, and more resolved.
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