Monday, September 01, 2008

Alekha's Poem

Tom O'Toole and Aleka Charles, photo by Therese O'Toole, 08-05-08Alekha Charles is a "slight but mighty" 15 year old that I've taught tennis to for a little over a year. While not a church attendee or member of any denomination, Alekha recently made the bold move to wear the Miraculous Medal during her matches. And, to top it off, I asked her to "win a match for me" as a birthday present (though I am named after Augustine, I was actually born on the feast of his mother, St. Monica) she at first looked at me quizzically, then nodded. The next day, Alekha had to play the best girl on JV, a young woman with years of experience (Alekha had never even touched a racquet before we met last summer) and whom she had already lost to twice. Despite being steamrolled 6-0 the first set, Alekha managed to not only steady herself but, by scrambling for virtually every point, steal the second set 7-6 from her talented but stunned opponent. And, as it was too late to play the deciding set that afternoon, the match was completed the following day—my birthday—as Miss Charles "miraculously" took the final set 6-3 to score the improbable victory ... and present!

The following is my poem to her, written just prior to the start of her high school season.

The Secret that Won't Forsake Her: My Promise to Alekha
In the beginning
She could hit nothing
Forehands flopped
as backhands backfired
And volleys proved folly
Meanwhile, nary a smile
crossed her terse but determined face

Actually, it was
that smile that cracked first
But just as
a few forehands
finally began to fall
Alekha fell too—
And not knowing
the medical history
of my now prone protege
I openly wondered
if young Miss Charles
was passing out
or passing on
Whether destined
to master the serve
or serve the Master
on a decidedly higher court

But just as it appeared
Alehka was about to meet her Maker
the wise and decisive champion Charu
(who doubled as her mother)
Not only rescued her daughter from Death
but treated her and Anjli to Dairy Queen
all in the same day

The next chapter in this story reads
Alekha not only resuming her tennis lessons
but, battling bees, nose bleeds and allergies
Beating the odds by grasping the game
well enough in seven weeks
to make the JV Team

This year, the Seasoned Server
Is about to embark on her Sophomore Season
And the charming if alarming Miss Charles
knows the stakes are now much higher
Not just to make the team
but win
Not only to play for the team
but lead

And when she has those days
when heat beats down her resolve
double faults lead to doubts
and she lets bugs get the best
of her attention and intentions
I struggle to make Alekha
both perceive and Believe

Yet lately, I see something
in the eyes of the "Fainting Beauty"
That, though she be a mere fifteen
my slight but mighty student
may indeed already be ready
for what I call "The Secret"
... so it's time that I reveal it

If you always
try your hardest and do your best
Never forget
the unfailing faith
your family has for you
Hold in your heart
the perfect prayer
that is the Medal's plea
(Oh Mary, conceived without sin
Pray for us who have recourse to thee)

Always listen
to the sage (if strange) advice
of your slightly insane instructor

You, Alekha
will soon awake
No longer
the hapless novice
others dubbed "The Hitless Wonder"

But emerge as
The Courageous Player
Whose ways
helped save the world
the day you won
at Love

Tom O'Toole
to my star understudy Alekha Charles
Feast of St. Laurence
August 10th, 2008

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