“Mom, will you tell me a story before you turn off the light?” Malcolm asked.
“What kind of a story would you like—one from the Book of Mormon, like the one about Ammon and the stripling warriors?”
“How about a story about you when you were my age.”
“Let’s see, just how old are you now?” she teased.
“You know that I’m almost eight,” Malcolm said with mocked exasperation. “We’ve been talking for months about my getting baptized next week.”
“I can tell you something that happened to me the summer after I was baptized. Is that close enough?”
When Malcolm nodded, Mom went on, “I call this story ‘One Day in the Water.’ This is how it happened:
“Shortly after we moved to the farm, my Uncle Virgil and his daughter Cindy came to see us. She was a year older than I.
“‘How would you girls like to go swimming with Cindy at the town swimming pool for a couple of hours while I do some business?’” he asked my sister, Pam, and me. ‘Afterward you could come home with us and spend the night?’
“Your Aunt Pam and I raced to pack our suitcases with pajamas, clean clothes, and toothbrushes. Then we quickly changed into our swimming suits, grabbed our towels, kissed our parents good-bye, and headed into town.
“I had never gone swimming without your grandpa and grandma being right in the pool with me, but Pam assured me that the lifeguard would keep an eye on us and help us if we had any problems.
“The lifeguard didn’t look nearly as strong as your grandpa, but Pam didn’t seem the least bit worried, so I jumped into the water after her and Cindy and joined in the splashing and races across the shallow end. I was having a wonderful time until Cindy challenged Pam to swim around the entire edge of the pool with her. I had swum in the deep end before when your grandpa was there, but I wasn’t too confident on my own. Still, I didn’t want to be left out, so I started to swim behind them. When we went under the rope, I lost my nerve and decided to circle the deep end by hanging onto the edge.
“Five older boys were taking turns doing stunts off the low diving board. One of them spotted me clinging to the edge, and he started to tease me. ‘This is the deep end, little girl,’ he said. ‘No babies allowed.’
“‘I’m not a baby,’ I retorted, embarrassed that he had noticed me.
“‘Yeah, then why are you hanging onto the edge?’ he jeered. Soon his four friends joined him in the pool, and one of them started to splash water in my face. I turned my head away and looked for the lifeguard. But the lifeguard chair was empty, and there was no one standing around the edge of the pool with a whistle.
“‘Leave me alone,’ I told the boys. ‘I’m just resting.’ I felt tears welling up in my eyes, so I bit my lip hard, trying to control them. If they already think that I’m a baby, I thought, what will they do if I start crying?
“‘Well, you’ve rested long enough,’ the first boy snapped. ‘Now swim.’
“Pam and Cindy, unaware of my plight, had finished their trip around the pool and were sunbathing at the other end.
“‘What are you waiting for?’ the boy who had splashed me demanded. ‘You heard Bruce—swim!’
“I turned to swim close to the edge of the pool, and when the boys realized what I was going to do, three of them lined up in front of me and two got behind me so that I would have to swim across the deep end. I took a deep breath and pushed off as hard as I could. When I reached the middle, I turned to look back. By then the boys had completely forgotten me and were back on the diving board trying to outdo each other.
“I probably would have made it to the other side just fine except that I became frightened without someone watching over me. I panicked and went under. I sank clear to the bottom. I let my knees bend, then pushed off as hard as I could. The weight of the water pulled against me like a giant magnet. My head broke through the surface of the water just below my eyes, but I couldn’t get my nose above it to take a breath. I sank back to the bottom. Once more I pushed up with all the strength of my legs. Once more I was two inches too short. My lungs were really aching as I sank that time. My heart was pouring out silent pleadings to the Lord: ‘I’m drowning Heavenly Father! Help me! I can’t get my nose out of the water.’
“I remembered being told that if someone went underwater three times without being able to get a breath, he would drown. Again I pushed off. Again I failed. As I sank the third time, my mind cleared of all my fears, and I thought, This is what it is like to die. All I have to do now is take a deep breath. My lungs will fill with water, and I will drown. I wonder if my lungs will stop hurting when the water fills them? As I touched the bottom, a thought came to me as clearly as if it had been spoken: ‘Turn around. You will not drown.’
“I did turn around. I found myself at the side of the pool directly under the ladder. How I had gotten there I do not know. But I do know that it was not under my own power. I pushed up one last time, grabbed the ladder, and pulled myself up far enough to breathe. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I silently thanked Heavenly Father for answering my prayer. The warmth of the sun, the song of a nearby bird, the smell of the water—everything was a gift to be cherished.
“When I got my strength back and rejoined Pam and Cindy, I decided not to tell them about my experience. Somehow it was too sacred to talk about. I didn’t even tell your grandma for many years.
“When I ate supper that night, I concentrated on really tasting everything. After Pam and Cindy were asleep, I got out of bed and walked quietly around Uncle Virgil’s house, touching everything. I wanted to store in my mind the look, feel, and smell of everything. I savored my senses as though they were brand new. I wanted to really understand what it was like to be alive. That feeling stayed with me strongly for several days, then gradually faded away. But sometimes, when I’m all alone, it comes back to me for a short time.”
Malcolm hugged his mother tightly. “I’m glad that you didn’t drown, Mom,” he whispered.
“I think Heavenly Father knew that I needed to have a son like you before I went home to live with Him,” Mom said seriously.
For a long moment they sat there together in a comfortable silence. Then Mom gently tipped Malcolm’s face up and looked into his eyes. “It won’t be long before you’re baptized, Son,” she said. “I want you to think about this story that day. We all make mistakes as we learn and grow. And just as no one except Heavenly Father could have saved me from the water that day, no one but Jesus Christ can save us from our mistakes. Always remember that, Son. And thank Heavenly Father on your baptism day for Jesus. He is our Eternal Lifeguard.”