Swimming Lessons by ShareGood Blogger Joe Dean
I stood in the mountain river, as I often do following long hikes. 18 miles in and three to go. Lost in the natural therapy of this cold mountain spa, as my legs numbed, I heard him calling from the bank of the flowing river.
“What are you doing?”
Startled, I looked to the teenager and yelled back my brief explanation.
“Where are you going?” he said over the noise of the rapids.
I slipped on a rock, caught myself and called back, pointing, “Up there.”
He shouted it again. “What are you doing?”
Looking back over my shoulder, I slipped —slammed my knee on a rock — then became annoyed at the interruption to this peaceful routine. Here I was in the middle of nowhere all of this important silence of my annual sabbatical being broken by an increasingly perturbing teenager.
“What are you doing?” he yelled again.
I repeated my answer and began walking the sharp, pebbled river bottom back to the boy. He shouted again, “What are you doing?” I ignored him. Again he yelled, “Where are you going?”
‘Wise guy,’ I thought. Or maybe he didn’t hear me. Approaching the guy, I stopped on the river bank, I sighed and told him again what I was doing and pointed up to where I was going. Now, sitting on a rock beside the swiftly flowing water I noticed the boy’s father was watching us. He stood back.
The teen asked it again.
Something was wrong.
My eyes met the father’s. He smiled knowingly. It sounds over the top, I am sure, but his smile and his eyes were those of wisdom, a peace honed over the years as his son grew and struggled and dealt with whatever mental challenges seemed to be meeting me this day, on this trail, on this mountain top. The teen, more confident now, approached and sat next to me. He said, “What are you doing?” I explained again. He asked, “Where are you going?” I explained again. And, this was our conversation for the next 10 minutes, him asking those two questions, me answering each time and the dad, just standing back letting it unfold.
I dried my feet and the boy seemed interested. He was genuine, in the moment, gentle. I smiled, a big smile. I asked him about his Tee-shirt. (It said, Keep the Faith). Then, I nodded to the kid’s dad. I didn’t say what I wanted to say. I didn’t apologize to the dad for thinking his kid was a ‘wise guy.’ I didn’t tell the father how I was almost annoyed at this interruption. I didn’t say how much I appreciated his unconditional love for his child, his bringing him here to this river bed, and his lack of need to explain to me that his boy was on the spectrum — whatever that means. Instead, they just were. Father and son, as natural as the running river. The way of water.
I couldn’t shake it…this feeling, the father’s smile and his knowing or having learned that he need not explain his child to the world. The world had its own responsibility. His was to love. Unconditionally.
So I continued my Sabbatical walk, my journey between retirement and my next great adventure.
I heard it in the rapids and in the wind as I walked toward the summit, completing this leg of my journey:
“What are you doing?”
“Where are you going?”
Joe Dean is a blogger here at Power of Humans. His Children’s book, with proceeds going to childhood cancer research, will be available later this year. Read Joe’s prior posts HERE.