Posted in Writing Life


My kids have their swimming lessons on Saturday mornings. It wouldn’t be my first choice of times, but it’s what worked out this fall. Last Saturday at 10:00 am I was sitting in the bleachers, watching as usual, when I noticed a man come into the pool area. This was puzzling because these are children’s lessons. The only adults (other than instructors) are infant carrying moms and dads (mainly dads on Saturdays) who come at 10:30 for the parent-tot class.

He wore red swim trunks and carried a towel. He looked to be about 35 to 40 years old, half bald, on the shortish side for a man, chubby, hesitant. Maybe he’d made a mistake in the pool times, perhaps intending to come for recreational swim. I wondered if he was developmentally delayed. Something was different about his movements and his facial expression. As he looked at the board, uncertain, bewildered, one of the instructors glanced over his shoulder at the newcomer.

I watched as the instructor, F, himself a middle-aged man who’d come here from Mexico, where he’d been a swim coach, came over to the chubby guy (let’s call him Paul). I couldn’t hear their voices from where I sat, but F’s face was gentle and kind as he spoke to Paul. After they talked, Paul came up to sit in the bleachers. It was clear now that he was, in fact, developmentally delayed. I smiled at him and he smiled back broadly. He held himself still, small hands on his lap, like my children might have when they were six years old and anxious.

When it was time for his lesson, he walked down the steps to meet his instructor, a young man, who, like F, had a kind and respectful expression on his face as he encouraged Paul into the pool. There must have been some reluctance because Paul sat on the edge of the deep end, his feet dangling in the water for a few minutes, gathering his courage. His instructor waited patiently, offering a blue “noodle”. I heard Paul’s voice for the first time.

“I’ll count to three,” he said. “One. Two. Three. Go!” He slipped into the water with a splash and came up, holding onto the noodle. How brave–and his instructor gave him a high five. Both of them smiled proudly.

There were tears in my eyes.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

5 thoughts on “*Tenderness

  1. I would have been exactly the same – such a lump-in-the-throat moment – this sounds like another one of those great “faith restorers.” Such simple kindness, and yet it means the world.

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