In the spring of 1999, Novak Djokovic was playing tennis in an empty swimming pool. When air raid sirens sounded, he, his coach and his fellow players would run for the nearest bomb shelter and wait until it was safe to resume training.
In 2011, Djokovic won the men’s singles Wimbledon Championship. He is now roundly considered one of the best tennis players in history.
I have been thinking about the spirited Serbian champion quite a bit recently. It should surprise no one that he went on to achieve tennis greatness given the determination it took to keep training while NATO jets flew overhead and the country was deep into yet another armed conflict. Who would have blamed him if he had put his racquet aside and fled?
The past three months, in my own life, have been chaotic. Every time I thought life was settling back into a pattern I would receive a new and terrible piece of information about my sister’s condition. At every possible moment, I would drop everything to be by her side. Finally, (I hate the sound of that word right now), she lost the fight. She died on June 8, 2015. My heart broke more than I believed possible. I am still recovering from the shock and will be for a long time to come.
Somehow during these last three months, despite the stress and turmoil, I continued to write and meaningfully add to the current manuscript’s word count. Though I would never compare my situation to that of someone whose country has been ravaged by war, metaphorically, I felt very much as if I was writing under the constant threat of tragedy. All I could do was write until I heard the sirens, run for safety, then come out again when the skies were clear.
That all came to a halt on June 8th. The past week has been lived on autopilot—cry, make “the arrangements”, eat, sleep, repeat. For the first time, I could not summon the will to even think about sitting at my keyboard making stories. The bomb had hit home and all I could do was stand in the rubble and ask, “Why?”
By June 14th, the worst of the shock and grief had passed. I know the latter will be around for a long time and will often make appearances when it is least expected or desired, but at least I feel in control of my body and mind once more. I sat down Sunday morning, with Josh, and—after a long, running start—we wrote.
I could have easily taken another day, week, or month off to grieve. Who would blame me? Who would dare question my dedication to the craft under these circumstances? And, to be honest, a little part of me whispered that I was being selfish, disrespectful, and disloyal to my sister to be doing something that brings me so much pleasure so soon after her death. I did not listen to that voice.
The scene Josh and I wrote was short, the tone gentle, and the characters two of my favourites, which was hardly challenging but any words were good words at that moment. Far from an act of selfishness, this was healing. Every word was a brick put back in place, a piece of shattered glass swept away, a fragment of some treasured keepsake recovered.
Writing is not what I do, it is who I am. I will likely never achieve Novak Djokovic’s level of success but I understand how it feels to be so completely connected to the thing you love that even falling bombs can’t keep you away.
Grief takes many forms. There are thousands of tears yet to come for my beautiful sister. Some will fall from my eyes. Many more will flow through my fingers.