Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Inspirational Vignette: Little Old Boy in Pool

This year, my first assignment for the seventh graders has been to write for their classmates an inspirational essay, 300 words, based on an anecdote.   The assignment purposefully blurs the lines between "story" and "essay," because the best parts of essays (and speeches, sermons, etc.) are always the narrative parts.  Also, the anecdote is best when there's strong sensory detail that encapsulates the whole scene for the reader.

One of my students has written of rescuing his little brother from the deep end of a pool.  The kicker of his essay is that his little brother got in the water again, and again tried for the deep end.

This reminded me of a unique experience that I'd like to share:

For one summer, I was Associate Director of a pre-school summer camp in Mississippi.  One of my charges was known by his initials as "R.A.," born with some condition that had kept him indoors, tied by feeding tubes to a machine.   At age four, he was finally weaned from the machine. But he looked like an old man:  bony, bald, wizened, bags under his eyes.  He had never run outside or gone swimming.  He'd had no playmates.

His first time at a swimming pool, he begged me to take him in.  He clung to me, and I recall not only the sharpness of his fingernails digging into my neck, but the hot tears that rolled from his eyes, down my cheek, because he was that close.  He trembled.  He was terrified as I waded with him through the water.  I offered to take him back to land, but he insisted:  he wanted more.

There's a lesson in how he felt such fear and, at the same time, such strong desire to live.

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