Sink or Swim

Something softened my heart—and I don’t think it was all that water.

Around the age of 12, I developed into a “klutz.” I’m not sure what brought it on, but the symptoms were horrible. I fell, I stubbed my toes, and I stumbled over things. Boy, was I in trouble when my mom moved the furniture. We’re talking serious bruises here!

People who didn’t know me would say, “You’re so tall. You’ll be great at basketball.” Well, I tried. I really tried. But I missed so many balls and flubbed up so many games that I began to wonder if my P.E. grade could keep me out of college.

The beginning of my junior year in high school, we started another semester of basketball. I was not looking forward to another semester of failure.

Just as we were choosing teams, the teacher asked, “Would anyone here be willing to teach a freshman boy how to swim? Of course, you won’t be able to play basketball.” Oh, what a sacrifice. I volunteered immediately.

Tuesday I met Henry. This is going to be easy, I thought. I’m not even going to have to get wet. I’ll just sit on the side and tell Henry what to do.

Wednesday I was in the water with Henry.

Thursday I was ready to drown Henry.

By Friday, basketball was looking good.

Henry was short, plump, and although I didn’t know it at the time, mentally handicapped. At first he just thought it was a game, and he wouldn’t even try. I got so frustrated. I was very standoffish with him, very upperclassman. The more he goofed off, the less friendly I became. I started feeling kind of desperate about it. Weeks had gone by. He was still messing around, and I was yelling.

One night I asked Heavenly Father if he would soften Henry’s heart. “Make him teachable,” I prayed. “Please help him to listen to me and cooperate.”

Henry was no different the next day or the next. However, when I saw Henry, I noticed what a sweet smile he had. Then I laughed at something silly he did. I stopped yelling. I didn’t feel like it anymore. And, finally, we began talking. I actually liked Henry. I sat on the edge of the pool with him and told him how dangerous it was not to know how to swim. I told him he had to learn how because I wanted him to be safe. I told him, “I care what happens to you,” and I meant it.

Henry started trying. He put his face in the water. He kicked. He practiced his arms. He floated when I held him. Swimming did not come easily to Henry. But by the last day, he made it across the short end of the pool. He looked really rough, but he was afloat, and he passed it off for his coach.

When Henry came out of the water, you could see his smile clear across the pool. I’ve never seen anyone look so proud.

The next semester, whenever I passed him in the halls, he gave me his big smile. He often came and talked to me at lunch and after school.

I did such a small thing for Henry, and yet I reaped great benefits. His learning how to swim even got me an A in P.E. that semester. And I learned a very important lesson from Henry. I thought Heavenly Father had ignored my prayer because Henry didn’t change. Yet he didn’t have to. I was the one who needed a softened heart, and I got it. I began to see Henry as a person with value. He was more than just another aggravation in my life. As soon as I changed my attitude, Henry responded eagerly.

I also learned that Heavenly Father cares about each of us. And he wants us to care about each other—a lesson that has stayed with me, helping me to grow in the gospel. All because Henry needed to learn to swim.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh