A few days ago, I turned 59. You could say that I’m a kid in the eyes of Raymond Ceulemans, and a senior citizen from Haeng Jik Kim’s point of view. Just days before my birthday, I had a TIA (transient ischemic attack), which is like a mini-stroke. The unpleasant effects wore off quickly; my neurologist has me on medication, and I feel fine now.
Makes you feel very mortal, I can tell you. You take so many things for granted: the ability to speak, for instance. Take that away for just a day, and you’ll appreciate it for what it’s worth. If only one or two of the 640 muscles in your body malfunction, you can forget about enunciation.
Or about billiards, for that matter. I’ll confess that I had that thought on my mind for most of the day. Can I play billiards tomorrow, next week, this season? It looks like I can, but that’s not the only reason I should consider myself lucky.
Most senior players will recognize this, and it has little or nothing to do with our playing strength. We are over the hill, and we are discovering that life is not so bad on the other side. It has its perks. We can relax a bit. For many years, each of us on our own level, we have tried to become the best player we could be. We kept setting the bar higher, until we simply couldn’t jump it anymore. And now the pressure is off.
We have not won World Cups, maybe we’ve never even competed in one. But in our finest hour, we played 3-cushion like a pro. That hour lasted only twelve minutes, but boy, did it feel good. We were never more alive than with a cue in our hands. It was our paint brush, our racket, our camera, our bat, our pencil, our 3-iron, our guitar, our gun.
That is really what a cue is: destiny in your own hands.
And now we are 50, or 60 or 70. We are still pedaling on a bike, and the race is all around us. But we know we are not going to win it, and that’s okay. We have time to look around us, and see the beauty of the land. We still fit on that saddle. The mountain does not scare us, we’ve climbed it so many times. And we love the road, probably more than when we were young and our eyes were firmly on the prize.
I am one of those guys who is not going to win races anymore (not that I won that many in the past, mind you). And frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. My average will go south in the upcoming years: fine with me. I will be giving handshakes, far more often than receiving them. And – as much as I dislike losing – I intend to love every minute of it.
Why is that? Because at some point, winning matches stops being your motivation to play billiards. How well or how poor the other guy plays seems to lose much of its relevance. You find reasons to play, deeper inside of you. You against the other guy, that will fade. You against the balls and the table, that stays. The game has nestled itself into your bloodstream and nervous system, it has become part of who you are. You need the endorphins from your good shots so bad, you’ll put up with the aggravation from your muck-ups. You have the incurable disease called billiarditis, and it causes an itch you can’t stop scratching.
Some good players say goodbye to the game, at a certain age. They don’t want to see their level go down, they think that playing poorly is more painful than to not play at all. I understand and respect that, but my choice will be different. I am going to play until I can’t lift the cue anymore. If I stop playing 3-cushion, I’ll still write about it. If I’m all done writing, I’ll still watch it. And others will create the magic for me.