My Advanced Snorkeling class had gathered in a gazebo overlooking the beach at Columbus Landing Park on the paradise island of Grand Turk. It was the afternoon session on the second of our eight-day course.
We were students of Melon Dash, founder of Miracle Swimming, which specializes in teaching adults to overcome their fear of deep water. It’s been 30 years since she devised her swim instruction methodology – unique in the world. In that time, Melon has brought thousands of men and women from sheer terror of water to perfect comfort in both pools and the open ocean – including SCUBA certification.
Our class routine – integral to the Miracle Swimming process -- was to hold a discussion period of 10 minutes to a half hour or more, during which we would talk through the plan for the class, voice any concerns or fears we might have, and set some goals for what we wanted to accomplish in the next couple of hours. After instruction in the water, we would gather again to process what we just learned -- experiences, breakthroughs, aha moments … whatever.
Except that this week, we came to know a little boy none of us will ever forget.
We had decided as a group to swim out to a reef farther from shore than any of us had ever ventured. It was marked by an orange buoy that I couldn’t even see from the beach. The return swim would be against the current, so as much as it sounded like a fun thing to do, we were a bit antsy.
Chris Canaday, our Miracle Swimming instructor for this class, had just begun to facilitate the opening discussion period.
And then along came Josh.
Josh lives on this capital island of the Caribbean nation of Turks and Caicos. At 11 years of age, he is a chest-thumping 70 pounds of uninhibited attitude.
With him was his cousin, Silvano, and a pack of eight feral dogs – known as Royal Bahamian Potcakes.
Garrulous Josh was obviously the alpha -- of the pack, of Silvano, and probably of his entire neighborhood.
Josh bounded into the gazebo, shouting a loud, authoritative command for the Potcakes to remain out. Silvano was allowed in.
The gazebo is public, so there was nothing we could do to preserve the privacy of our discussion period.
The two boys joined us on the bench that wrapped around the interior of the gazebo and listened to Chris describe what our trip to the buoy would entail.
For about 15 seconds.
In his gravely voice -- much louder and deeper than his small frame would seem to house – Josh commenced to help Chris facilitate.
He warned us of Shirley the Barracuda … of ugly octopuses … of a schoolmate who had drowned in these waters.
Just what we needed to hear!
Then – dismissing a core Miracle Swimming principle -- Josh proclaimed: “Why don’t you stop talking about it and go do it!”
Just what Chris needed to hear!
As will happen with children, familiarity took over and Josh helped himself to one of my fins and tried it on for size. Then my wife’s fin. Then he hung on Chris’s arm.
Chris cut the discussion period short, and the boys followed us into the water. They did dolphin dives around us as we industriously tried to get into our snorkel gear.
They asked if they could try our snorkel masks, and each of us said no.
But here’s what happened … and why I am writing about Josh today.
When we returned from our swim to the reef, Josh and Silvano were waiting for us in the gazebo. This time they listened attentively as we spent a few minutes discussing our lesson.
When we finished, Josh took Chris’s hand … took my hand … Silvano took my other hand … and my wife’s hand … and our group joined hands because Josh told us to.
With no embarrassment or awkwardness, this little macho man said we were going to pray now.
And in his deep, gravely voice and his Creole accent, Josh offered the most articulate prayer that I, for one, have heard in a long time.
He thanked God, whom he called “Father in Heaven,” that we had been able to swim to “the booby” and return safely. He prayed that we would come back to Grand Turk so we could all see each other again.
I found out later that each one of our small group had worried that while we were in the water, Josh and his cousin would surely rummage through the belongings in our swim bags.
We each admitted feeling guilty of unfairly and wrongly judging the boys.
The next day, my wife and another student went to the dive shop and purchased two snorkel sets – expensive ones that neither boy could hope to afford.
A boy named Josh
I had more than a snorkeling lesson that day:
“And He said, ‘Unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter into Paradise.’”
In my next blog: Top Ten Things I Didn’t Do on Cape Cod This Summer