Last week, I sat at the timing table in my effort to learn how to run the computer for swim meets.
The woman on my right was the embodiment of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice. She was genuine, kind, enthusiastic, and, like me, new and a little overwhelmed by the goings-on at the table.
The woman on my left was a pro. She had been working the table for many years. She was calm and unflustered, even when things got crazy.
Pool acoustics are never great, so neither woman could not hear what the other was saying.
Sugar-and-spice nudged my elbow during the 50 Free. “See that boy over there?” She nodded at a swimmer in the far lane. “I wish I had taken a video of him on the first day of practice,” she said. “He could barely swim. Look at him go!”
I watched the boy thrashing at the water slowly making his way down the pool far behind the other swimmers.
On my other side Ms. Pro said, “Oh, God! I don’t know why they allow that kid to swim! He moves in inches! This is going to take forever!”
Behind her, a young woman echoed her sentiments. “His stroke is awful! Look at him. He’s not cupping his hands!”
Sugar-and-spice said again, “He’s doing so well!”
Ms. Pro groaned at his slow progress.
I felt like I was sitting with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, one focusing on what the swimmer could do and the other focusing on everything he couldn’t.
I told Laurel about it on the car ride home. “I know which one I want to be,” I said.
Later that night — midnight to be exact — I was up with my father. He had changed mostly out of his pajamas and had his shoes on. That night’s self-donned wardrobe consisted of four layers of shirts, one-and-a-half layers of pants (don’t ask), three socks on one foot, and a single compression stocking on the other.
“Dad,” I complained, “what are you doing?!”
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” he said.
After getting him changed into his pajamas and back to bed, I lay in my own bed thinking about the swim meet, and how easily I became the person I didn’t want to be. I was frustrated with what my father.
“Lord,” I prayed, “help me appreciate the fact that he can still put on a compression stocking — because that’s hard. He can still tie his shoes. He can still walk. And talk. And feed himself.”
I fell back asleep counting his abilities.
Two hours later he was up again. And I forgot again.
“Dad,” I said, “you’ve got to get some sleep!” By which I meant I need sleep.
“I’m doing the best I can,” he said.
And I remembered again the boy with uncupped hands struggling down the pool. I remembered Sugar-and-spice cheering him on.
Again I prayed. “Thank you, Lord, for my father. Help me help him. Help me give back to him a little of the lifetime of caring he has given to so many. Thank you for the lessons that he still teaches me. And thank you that he’s back to sleep.”
For now, I thought, and smiled.