As we pulled up to a former convent that would be my new home, my stomach churned with nerves and excitement as I realized my life was about to change. I walked inside to meet ten strangers forming a tunnel with their hands for me to walk through which only made me question more what I was getting myself into. After brief introductions and a quick house tour, I found myself lying in my new bed taking in all the change.
Over the next two weeks, our community began to form as we worked through the logistics and goals for living in an intentional community. Orientation was centered around community building as we explored the city and spent all our free time together. All the planned activities created a summer camp time environment, but once we started our jobs in the third week, the realization that we would be here for a full year began to set in. The comforts of our previous homes, families, and friends were no longer there. With all the changes in lifestyle and environment, I sought out what felt most comforting: tennis courts.
Our convent is located a block away from McKinley Park, a 70-acre area that has three baseball fields, a turf soccer field, a small pond, and most importantly to me, eight tennis courts. During orientation, I played a few times with some of my new roommates, and every time we went to the courts, we saw the same group of men sitting around the end courts in camping chairs. Over the next few weeks, I continued to watch the group and eventually decided to introduce myself. I first met Richard, Javier, and Nitan who seemed to be the self-appointed leaders of the group. We exchanged numbers and soon began playing on an almost daily basis. The group was there Monday-Friday from 5 pm until it was too dark to see the ball. They welcomed me into their community and helped me feel comfortable in my new environment. Since first meeting them, I’ve played with Brian, Nitan, Juan, Roy, Johnny, Richard, Travis, Wood, Javier, Luis, “Doc”, Enrique, and several others whenever they could make it. Though most of the guys are between 35 and 60, both Doc and Enrique are in their late 70s and still crushing their opponents.
The summer season culminated in the end-of-the-year tournament for which they had 22 people signed up to play. After the final match, we had a potluck with grilled hamburgers, chips, fruits and veggies, and plenty of cervezas for all. I spent almost the whole day with the group and listened to their backstories, local restaurant preferences, and life advice for a young service member spending a year in Chicago. I spent nearly six hours with everyone that day and for the first time really felt like the community could be my home. Since the tournament, I have brought along my roommate Joe McGrane and introduced him to all the guys. As the weather has taken a turn for the worst, Joe and I have had less time to catch up with the group, but whenever the courts are dry and it’s above 50 degrees, we can count on someone to show up.
I will miss seeing my new friends and playing competitively as the weather ceases our play, but I am extremely grateful for everyone that I met at the courts and what they have done to make this community feel like a home. I cannot wait to get back out there in the spring to reunite with my new community.