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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

May Day! May Day!

What if you started every game in tennis behind Love-40 against opponents of equal ability?  How long before TLC’s Three Crowns of Positive Attitude, Full Effort, and Good Sportsmanship collapsed in on you?

Today is May Day, the day of May baskets.  May poles.  May Day celebrations of spring (that season which does not occur in Minnesota).

But today is another type of May Day for me.  The day where I send out a distress signal (“May Day! May Day!”) admitting I need help learning something. (The saying is actually the anglicization of the French m’aidez or m’aider, meaning “help me”).  It is a day I am going to reflect on the makeup of our staff, our campers, and the world, and my position of authority granted by my position as Director of Tennis & Life Camps at Gustavus.

But, more-so, reflect on the authority granted me by society, simply by my gender, the color of my skin, my sexual orientation, my being raised in a financially secure home.  None of these did I ask for.  All of them give me an advantage.  Even an advantage in learning and playing the game of tennis.  I hit the jackpot.

This afternoon, in a cultural competency evaluation, I will continue the illuminating and humbling process of learning just how these advantages set me up to be far ahead of most in life from the very beginning, for no other reason than into what circumstances I was born.

I work hard.  (I really do, contrary to my spouse’s opinion).  The camper who is black who was at our winter retreat camp works hard, too.  But the first thing anyone sees is the color of his skin.  And a barrier of suspicion goes up that he has to climb over to get to where he wants to go, where for me there is none, just a road without road blocks.

I love my spouse with every fiber of my being.  For 35 years now.  But staff members and campers who love their spouses equally and happen to be gay have a barrier to climb over – people they must “win over” or, worse, avoid so they don’t get hurt –  where for me there is none, just a welcoming into society as the couple we are.

I believe in equality of gender and believe all should have equal access, and think of myself as pretty aware.  But I have never been approached for a “favor” in order to get a job, or touched at work and told it was accidental, or been the butt of a misogynistic comment and told it was just a joke and I’m too sensitive, or been paid less for the same job, or told I “throw like a girl” (there is no such thing as throwing like a girl, by the way, there is only throwing like someone who has not yet been taught how to throw).

I have not had to prove myself and speak for my entire race, gender, or sexual identity simply because of who I am – a white, straight, male.  Nor do I have to represent the entire religion I was raised in, the way our Muslim staff members and campers have been asked to do to “prove” their worthiness and allegiance.

And my parents never wanted for anything financially when I was growing up.  I never wondered where my next meal was coming from, or whether we would have to stretch the soup by adding water.  I never had to go to school with a rumbling belly and be asked to concentrate.  Trust me, if I had, my hunger combined with my ADHD would have had me spending most of my time in detention.

All of these add up to a life of advantages billions of people do not have.  Have I had to work for where I have gotten in life?  You bet.  Have I had to have talent?  Yes.  Did I make the most of it?  I hope so.  Have I struggled in life at times because of other factors that had nothing to do with these societal inequities?  Absolutely.

But today, in my session this afternoon to continue to discover my blind spots when it comes to reaching across divides and becoming an ally rather than someone who blames others for obstacles that are real, I will again be uncomfortable.  It is a minuscule price to pay, compared to others who live it every day.  Because I have been able to start my tennis matches up 40-Love in most games, compared to many people I know and love who work just as hard as I do but start each game at Love-40, or break point.  Literally.

I have the power.  And power is a very difficult thing to give up.

And yet, it is possible–and necessary–to look deeply. To be willing to apply the Three Crowns not just to the tennis court, not just to personal, family, work and school situations, but to societal inequities. And then do something about it.


At least it is possible if we believe we all deserve the opportunity to start at Love-Love.  And then go a step further after that and figure out how we can all rise together, knowing when anyone is left behind, we all suffer.

I believe at Tennis & Life Camps, with the staff and campers we have, we can turn “May Day!” from a distress signal into a celebration.  And we will continue to strive to do that, until May Day just becomes the day where everyone celebrates the coming of spring.  Except in Minnesota, of course.

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