I saw John and his mother walk to the side of the swimming pool where the lessons began. He clung to his mother with both hands, his face speaking the language neither needed to say. John was scared.
I was 16 years old, teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. For the first session, which lasted a week, another teenager and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children.
Four children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their legs, eager to jump in and learn the basics of swimming. John stood behind the group, gripping his mother's hand, wanting no part of swim lessons.
Realizing he needed individual attention, I said to my colleague, "Let me take John. The other children are ready to get into 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 took one of my hands, and 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, but a triumph nonethelest!
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Morning
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 Wednesday's 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. By the end of the morning, John had caught up with the other children. He was using a kickboard propelling himself across the pool. He kept his head under water, but when he turned his head to get a breath of air, he was grinning from ear to ear!
Friday, with all of the children together, we taught them arm movements for the freestyle swimming stroke. They stood in the water practicing and before the session ended there were five new swimmers in Columbus, Ohio.
My First Gratitude
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 lid, I saw a stack of brownies. My mother never made these delicious treats. I'd heard about them, but never tasted one. Now I had a whole pan all to myself!!
"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 55 years later.
Questions for Reflection
1. When was the first time you remember receiving gratitude? Describe your experience.
2. How did this first experience encourage you to offer gratitude to others?
3. How do you maintain an awareness of gratitude all year, not just during November?
Prayer: God, I thank you for this mother's kindness to me. A new world of gratitude opened in my heart that day. Help me be your agent of thanks to all I encounter and an initiator of appreciation.
Guide me in these ways to spread gratitude wherever I go. Amen.