I will never forget the events of that sultry mid-summers day, both for the great significance of them for a young boy called Freddie, but also for how his story speaks to each of us that care for, and about, children or young people with additional needs…
The day had started quite uneventfully, but as it wore on and warmed up my spaniel, Ella, was increasingly desperate for a walk to the nearby river. She loves a swim, and so I eventually stopped working, and off we went. As we reached the river we stopped at a section that has a shingle beach about 50-60m long, and I tossed a stick into the river for Ella to fetch. She willingly swam out to it, collected it and brought it back, dropping it expectantly at my feet. We repeated this simple pleasure several times, until I saw a mum and her three-year-old boy, Freddie, arrive at the other end of the beach. Mum settled on a bench while Freddie paddled in the river, happily clutching his little fishing net, busily chasing minnows…
As Freddie tried to catch the little fish, he moved deeper into the water and progressed further along in my direction. “Freddie, don’t go out too deep, stay nearer the beach”, mum shouted, but Freddie was having too much fun and didn’t hear her; he edged out into the river up to his waist, and further along the river towards where I was throwing the stick for Ella.
“Freddie, you’re in too deep, come in closer to the beach” cried mum, but Freddie wasn’t listening, he was enjoying chasing fish and was now up to his chest in water. He was about half-way between where his mum was sitting and where I was stood. I know this river very well, I’ve lived near it all my life, and I know that is slowly shelves out and then suddenly drops into a deep, fast flowing channel. Seeing Freddie’s progress, I took off my shoes, took my ‘phone, keys and wallet out of my pockets, and started paddling out into the river…
“Freddie, you’re out too far, come in now!” shouted mum from the bench. Freddie was most of the way along to where I was, but was now up to his neck in the river. Laughing in delight, he took one more step back and disappeared under the water. I knew it was no good going to where he had vanished, the river runs fast in the channel he had fallen into, so I raced straight out to where I thought I could catch him. As I reached the middle of the river, chest deep myself, I looked down and deep under the water saw a glimpse of a brightly coloured tee-shirt being pulled by. Plunging down I grabbed a handful of tee-shirt and pulled Freddie up and out of the deep. There was one chance to save him, and to this day I believe God put me there for that purpose that day. I notice things, I have knowledge of the river, I am a strong swimmer; if God hadn’t caused me to be there that day, I doubt that Freddie would have been saved.
As I threw the coughing, spluttering, and rather shocked Freddie over my shoulder and started back towards the shore, I noticed that mum, finally, had left the bench and was screaming “Freddie! Freddie!” as she ran along the beach. She met me as Freddie as we arrived at the shore, snatching him up and hurrying him away, blaming him for not listening to her.
As I stood on the beach, somewhat stunned, and the magnitude of what had just happened began to sink in, my spaniel, Ella, wandered up, dropped a stick by my feet, and looked at me hopefully…
So, what does any of this have to do with caring for and working with children or young people with additional needs? Well, I wonder if each of the characters involved in this little story can be recognisable in the context of the work that we do…
Representing many of us, doing the work we do as parents or as children’s/youth workers, enjoying what we do but often being ill equipped to realise the difficulties that we may be getting into; unaware that we might be getting out of our depth, oblivious to the challenges to come.
Representing those who shout from the sidelines, but do nothing constructive to help. They may offer opinions or even tell us what we are doing wrong, but do nothing positive. If everything does go wrong, they may be the first ones to blame us, and say “I told you so…”
Representing someone who is a bit further along the road than us, someone who knows more than we currently do and is willing to use or offer that knowledge and experience to help us, maybe even to save us when things all go so badly that we are being swept along by circumstances out of our control. Someone who is willing to dive in, get involved, struggle for us and put our feet back on safe ground.
Representing someone who brings normality back to our lives. When everything seems to be unravelling, they are just there for us, grounding us, maybe even bringing us something unexpected.
We might initially recognise ourselves in one of these characters and we might recognise other people in other characters too… but perhaps there is a little of each character in all of us…
- We can all have a little of “Freddie” in us, unaware of our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities; ill equipped and ill prepared to face some of the challenges that lie ahead… Realising this in ourselves is important if we are to receive the help of others.
- Perhaps we can have a little of “Mum” in us too, sometimes being critical of others without offering any constructive help… Let’s minimise this trait in ourselves, for surely we can all be guilty of it at some point.
- Hopefully we can all have a little of “Me” in us, being willing to seek out and help those a little further behind us on the journey, offering the knowledge and experience we’ve gained to benefit others. Let’s all try to do this more, to do all we can to help each other.
- And it would be great if there was a little of “Ella” in all of us too. Bringing normality to others, maybe just ‘being there’, maybe bringing something unexpected.
The story and this metaphor also remind me of the reassuring words God gave to Isaiah… “Family of Jacob, the Lord created you. People of Israel, he formed you. He says, “Do not be afraid, I will set you free. I will send for you by name, you belong to me. You will pass through deep waters, but I will be with you. You will pass through the rivers, but their waters will not sweep over you… I am the Lord your God. I am the Holy One of Israel. I am the one who saves you.” Isaiah 43:1-3 (NIrV)
We do not journey alone… We have each other to share the journey with, to encourage and support each other; to use our experience and knowledge for the benefit of us all, to be there for each other. And we have our great big God who is there with us too, to help us and to save us… So let’s all journey on together shall we?
Anybody got a stick?
6th April 2017
Image rights: Mark Arnold