May Day! May Day!

Posted on May 1st, 2017 by

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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  1. Dorothy says:

    Wonderful analogy. Sharing this with my children. So grateful to be the recipient of your eloquently expressed truths…It’s time for another Ted Talk!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      lol. I would love to do another Ted Talk. You know me, I never get tired of hearing the sound of my own voice ;).

  2. Sarah Beaty says:

    What a poignant post and thank you for writing on this important and sensitive subject.

    Please know that by the equal enthusiasm and appreciation you bring to every one of your campers you are modeling the type of behaviors that build confidence and a more level playing field to everyone you greet and teach. My thanks to you and your whole staff for living the value of inclusion – and Go TLC!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Sarah. Your kids model this beautifully, too, so thank you back.

  3. Diane Marsh says:

    You are so inspiring, Neal. And I feel as though I am also reading words from Steve’s heart. Thank you.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Diane, Steve was on my mind today as I thought about all this…

  4. Thue Rasmussen says:

    You’ve expressed this important awareness poignantly, yet affirmingly about what we can and must attain. Your humble eloquence about living fully, open to making lives less burdened by social barriers of which we unconsciously often don’t take account, is so admirable and promising for the benefit
    of us all. Thanks!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Thue, it is a long road to awareness for me. Good thing I plan to live to 100, because I should be about halfway there by then…

  5. Leandra Peak says:

    Neal Hagberg, you are AWESOME. Love you!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Well, that’s about the sweetest thing that could happen, hearing from you. Love you back.

  6. Peter Whitis says:

    Beautiful essay Neal. Thanks. I sent an email with a special request to quote you. It’s hard to keep the positive attitude going these days with all the world’s troubles–but even more important to do so.

  7. Elly Black says:

    You ROCK!! Keep spreading the word Neal! Your messages of wisdom, kindness and hope are heartwarming!


    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you Elly. And thanks for sending all that cold, Canadian wind down our way!

  8. Greg Emerson says:

    I love, love, love your blogs Neal! You hit the nail on the head that we have so many kids/parents that start out at 0-40 but many more start at 40-0. We need to get everyone to 30-30:) You inspire me to make a difference everyday. Thank you!!

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      I was just thinking about you today, Greg, and the impact you are making in so many kids’ lives. I am proud to know you, and you inspire me each day, too.

  9. Aileen Williams says:

    Wow, so happy to be able to recommend this camp for those reasons – nevermind the sweet tennis!

  10. Mike Senescall says:

    Thank you Neal. This is a wonderful reminder we all need to be conscience of our “blind-spots” and work to reduce/eliminate them.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thanks, Mike, your leadership has been essential in helping to encourage all this….