I saw John and his mother walk to the side of the swimming pool where the lessons began. He clung to her with both hands, he was crying softly, and he looked down.
I was 16 years old teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. The first session, which lasted a week, my fellow teacher and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children.
The other children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their legs, eager to jump in and swim. John stood behind the group, gripping his mother's hand, wanting no part of swim lessons.
Realizing this little boy needed individual attention, I said to my colleague, "Let me take John. The other children are ready to get in the water."
His intense fear of the water stirred compassion and sadness in me and a desire to help. John clung to his mother most of the first day. Nothing I did or said, convinced him to release his bond. Finally, I reached both of my hands to this frightened four-year-old and with great courage he reached for one of my hands, then the other, still standing close to his mother, but inching closer to the side of the pool.
By the end of the first class, John stepped tentatively, - always holding my hand - to the edge of the pool where he sat dangling his legs. A small triumph compared with the other children already bobbing their heads and dipping under water.
Tuesday morning we began again sitting on the edge of the pool, playing with the water and talking. By Wednesday, John slipped into the waist-high water, and with increasing confidence jumped and played, copying the activity of the other children. Toward the end of class, he bent over and put his face in the water. I clapped! His mother, watching from the side clapped, and John emerged from the water with a huge smile on his face.
Thursday John jumped in the pool, put his face under water and joined the class, as they learned to float and kick. John had caught up with the other children. He was using a kickboard as he propelled himself across the pool. He kept his head under water, and smiled as he bobbed up and down.
Friday, with all of the children together, we taught them arm movements for the front crawl. They stood in the water practicing and before the session ended there were five new swimmers in Columbus, Ohio.
When John's mother came to pick him up on Friday, she carried an aluminum pan covered with foil.
"Thank you so much," she said, smiling, handing me the pan.
Lifting the foil, I saw a stack of brownies. My mother never made these delicious treats. I'd heard about them, but never tasted one.
"Oh thank you so much. I'm proud of John!" I replied, equally pleased with her son's progress.
This mother taught me I could receive someone's concerns and then serve as an agent of change in a little boy's life. The plate of homemade brownies, a tangible expression of a mother's gratitude for my
work with her child was an unexpected surprise. The impact of her kindness remains with me fifty years later.
How do you express gratitude to others? How do others express gratitude to you?