The morning sun hid behind the outline of the dormitory, casting a long dark shadow over the ground where I was standing. I looked resignedly at the stacks of suitcases that surrounded me, stacks that were beginning to resemble mountains as I began carrying each bag, heavy with clothes or shoes or bed linens, up the stairs to my room. My pile finally dwindled down to the small, heavy refrigerator that would be impossible to carry alone. As I looked around at the other kids moving in, their dads helping them lug the heavy items up the stairs, a twinge of pain and sadness crept into my stomach as I thought of my dad’s death. Sitting on top of the refrigerator, my back bent, elbows resting on my knees, I felt lost and helpless, glancing powerlessly from the refrigerator to the stairs.
As I watched the families moving in, I was reminded of the summer when I was five years old, the summer my family lived in a rental house while our old house was sold and the purchase of our new house was finalized. The house we rented, completely vacant except for a disco ball that sat forgotten in the corner of the living room, was amazing for one reason: the pool in the backyard. It was huge and mysteriously deep; all I could think about, as I spent those scorching summer days always in a bathing suit, was swimming to the bottom of the pool, a seemingly impossible task but one that I intended to accomplish. On one particularly sweltering afternoon, after swimming down as deep as I could until the pressure in my ears was nearly unbearable, I was determined to reach the bottom.
I stood at the edge of the diving board, my toes gripping the rough surface, peering down at the bottom of the pool through the calm, clear water. I had stood in this exact position so many times before, on the brink of accomplishment, my goal appearing closer than it ever had before. “Jump on in,” my dad called, “the water’s fine.” With my knees bent, my legs tense like the coils of a spring, my arms over my head in a perfect diver’s arch, and my dad’s encouraging words permanently fixed in my mind, I dove off the diving board, splitting the surface of the water, deeper, deeper, until my fingers at last grazed the rough, sandy bottom of the pool…
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I heard a voice say. “It looks like you could use some help with that refrigerator.” Standing, I glimpsed a tall, muscular man wearing cut-off jean shorts, smiling warmly and expectantly. As I carried two corners of the refrigerator, slowly, steadily climbing the stairs, I was reminded of my dad’s encouraging words, words that taught me that strength is found through risks and perseverance, through challenges that, although they may be painful or dangerous, will ultimately result in personal growth. But sometimes you just need a little help.
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