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Splashing in the pool, I’m wearing my one-piece, per camp policy. My girls are holding hands with me, running around in a circle, attempting to create a whirlpool. It’s the summer of 2013, and I’m a Counselor-In-Training at YMCA Camp Cheerio.
I glance at the lounge chairs, and spot one of my campers sitting alone. “Mindy, why aren’t you getting in?” I ask. She whispers to me that she can’t swim. Her embarrassment is obvious, as she looks at the ground in her purple tankini. I felt a wave of empathy and immediately, walk towards the lake to fetch a lifejacket for her. Fifteen minutes later, I return holding two life jackets. As Mindy slips into hers, still embarrassed, she looks at me with wide eyes as I put on the other one. “But you can swim!” she pleads. I shrug my shoulders and grab her hand as we make our way to the diving boards. We each climb onto one and do cannonballs into the deep end. We both see the other girls climbing out of the pool, rushing to the lifejacket bin.
Since there were only three lifejackets left, the girls fought over them, and ended up taking turns. I turn to Mindy with a smile, and she gives me a beaming smile back. I could tell that she had felt a little left out these past few days, and she had been worried about the other girls making fun of her for not being able to swim. As a cabin, we spend the rest of the afternoon on the diving boards, having cannonball competitions and playing question games. As cabin time comes to a close, Mindy grabs my hand and hugs me with pure joy. All she says is, “thank you,” before running off with the rest of her cabin-mates.
During our next ten days together, I would have this unexplainable connection with her; a micro-moment that turned into an explicable bond. The simple act of me putting on a lifejacket sent the message to Mindy that I’m with her in this. The power of empathy was epitomized by the authenticity of her smile. That afternoon serves as a constant reminder that any act of compassion, no matter how small, is significant. Dr. Brené Brown, an expert on the nature of empathy, believes that humanity’s most powerful quality is saying, “You are not alone.”
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