Lesson Learned

Sometimes we have the power to change people but we don’t even know it; at least that was the case with me. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college and I had a job that people my age only dreamed of: I had been named the director of an exclusive swim club on Staten Island. I was all of 20 years old and in charge of the pool, the lifeguards, the refreshment stand and best of all, I got to work with children as coach of the swim team. Life was good; at least for the early part of the summer.

The 25 yard-long pool I managed sat below an elegant clubhouse on a terraced hill on one of the highest points in the northeast. On a clear day you could look down from the glistening water to the hillside and out to the horizon where the sky and Atlantic Ocean met in a palate of blues; a spectacular sight.

By the end of June the schools let out, and all the kids I’d gotten to know the summer before came back: a tight-knit group, playful but respectful, and great fun to be around. All that changed a couple of weeks into the summer with the arrival of Chris, a 10-year old who had just moved to Staten Island. At first he was like any other 10-year old; he always seemed to have a smile on his face and was willing to laugh and make friends. But physically he was different in one obvious way: nearly half of Chris’ face was covered with a dark port-wine stain.

His first week he seemed to blend in pretty well and he went off my “radar”as someone I had to keep an eye on in case he ran into trouble. A week later I saw a couple of little spats between Chris and other kids but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, about two weeks after Chris’ arrival, the arguments seemed to get louder and more frequent. My lifeguards took notice and started to keep a sharp eye on the little “trouble maker.” He was given a number of “time outs”and I saw him more and more frequently sitting by himself, his face a mix of anger and sadness.

The lifeguard shack was a sanctuary for the staff. Built into the side of the hill on which the pool sat, the shack was a cinderblock oasis, the rooms cooled by the cold water pipes that fed the pool, circulating through the filtration system we maintained there. It was the one place where the staff could talk freely and openly about our jobs and the club members, most of whom treated us very well and who we’d come to like and enjoy. The turning point came one day when I was sitting in the shack going over the schedule with a few of the guards. One of them started to complain about Chris, about this mean-spirited little kid who always seemed to be getting in fights, who was disrupting their otherwise perfect summer. And then another lifeguard joined in and then another. Clearly we had a problem on our hands.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 23rd, 2014 at 11:11 am and is filed under Observations. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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