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, his mouth drawn tight, lip quivering and his eyes wide open. John was scared.
I was 15 years old, teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. The other teacher and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children for the week-long lessons.
The other children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool, kicking their legs, making big splashes, eager to jump in the water and learn to 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 extended both of my hands to this frightened four-year-old and with great courage he reached for 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 to the other children already bobbing their heads and dipping under water, but a triumph nonetheless!
The Week Continues
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 Thursday's class, 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, smiling all the way!
Friday, with all of the children together, we taught the arm movements for the freestyle stroke. 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 lid, 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 over fifty years later.
For Your Reflection
1. Are there people in your life who need to know how much they are appreciated? Sometime before Thanksgiving, take a moment to write a note or send an email and extend gratitude.
Prayer: Loving and caring God, first we need to offer thanks to you for all of the blessings in our lives. We get so busy that we sometimes neglect to say we are thankful to you and to others who bless us in different ways. Help us pause and reflect during this week that we celebrate Thanksgiving and honor those who mean so much. Amen.