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Alex the Pool Man: A Lesson in Compassion

Alex the Pool Man: A Lesson in Compassion

“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”—Deuteronomy 15:7, 11

I believe a reverence for others and community comes from your family. The first time I experienced compassion for others was at age six. I can only attribute this to the gift my parents passed on to me. What legacy are you passing on to your children?

*****

When I was six years old, I got to take my first airplane trip. It was more exciting than being Superman. My family and I were on our way to Jamaica for our summer vacation. I had no idea where Jamaica was or what to expect when I got there. I just knew I was going to be above the cotton-shaped clouds in a winged chariot, and that was enough.

On the flight, the stewardesses, dressed in exotic island garb showered my brother and me with airline fanfare. “Now you’re an airline captain too,” the flight attendant said as I proudly pinned the gold pilot’s wings to my chest for all to see. I spent most of the flight with my nose pressed to the glass window imagining myself walking on the cotton pillows floating below.

“Touch-down!” I exclaimed as saw the fast approaching airport.

We disembarked and entered a terminal filled with luggage toting tourists sporting colorful flowered garments, which sharply contrasted with the white-linen-clad ebony people.

“Come this way, Bobby,” my mother guided as she pointed toward the terminal’s exit. I stepped out into a island paradise garnished with a cobalt blue sky, palm trees, sweet ocean air, and whitewashed stucco buildings.

My dad flagged down a taxi and the smiling driver quickly loaded our bags in the trunk. “Welcome to Jamaica, man!” the driver said in a strong Jamaican accent. “Is this your first time visiting here?”

I leaped up and exclaimed, “Mister, this is my first time anywhere!”

Erupting with deep laughter, the man said, “Well, then, you are in for a surprise, my friend. I know you will love my beautiful island.” Motioning to the rest of my family, he said, “Everybody in the car. It’s time for you to get your vacation started.”

With my nose pressed against the car window my eyes began to drink in the exotic landscape.

“I am going to take you on the scenic route,” the driver said as he hopped behind the steering wheel.

The smell of the salty sea air and the sounds of kettle drum music permeated the taxi as we were ferried to our destination.

“What kind of tree is that?” I asked in amazement. “Are those bananas hanging on it? Look! Up in that tree are a bunch of yellow birds like they have in the pet store,” I said pointing to the unusual flock.

Before long, we arrived at the cottage resort that would be our new home for the next ten days. As our bags hit the floor, my brother and I ran down to the sandy oasis.

“Ahhh spiders!” I shouted as I moved a rock on the beach.

My brother laughed and said, “Those are crabs, not spiders. They won’t hurt you.”

I knew then all the rules had changed. This was no ordinary place.

Later that day, a shuffle board court adjacent to the pool grabbed my attention. As I wandered toward the court, I bumped into one of the resort staff members.

“I am Alex, the pool man,” he announced as his finger ran across the red POOL MAN letters stenciled on his white shirt. “I live up on the mountain. Who might you be, my little friend and where might you be from?”

“My name is Bobby, and this is my first time in Janayka,” I said proudly. “And I’m from New York.”

Alex bellowed out a hardy laugh and said, “Well, my friend, I’ll be here to look after you then, won’t I?”

The following day, I sat on the edge of the pool while Alex skimmed the leaves off the water’s surface.

“Why are you not swimming, my little friend?” Alex prodded.

“I don’t know how to and I’m scared of the water,” I replied with trepidation.

“Well, I have to tell you, I am an expert diver. I swim to the bottom of the ocean almost every day to find treasure. There is no need to fear the water,” he confidently coached.

“Really?” I exclaimed. “You can teach me how to swim and you’ve been to the bottom of the ocean? What kind of treasure did you find?”

Alex stopped skimming and sat next to me. “I will tell you all about my treasures while I teach you how to swim,” he said. “This is an important skill you must have.”

While coaching me, Alex shared that he skin-dived deep into the ocean to retrieve exotic shells and coral treasures. “I sell them to all the tourists to help my village,” he said. “Sometimes I have to risk my own life so that my family can survive. If you follow what I teach you, you will be a strong swimmer just like me.”

I practiced the routines Alex showed me all day long. By nightfall, I swam for the first time and I couldn’t wait to see Alex to tell him about my triumph.

The next morning I waited patiently on the beach for Alex. After about an hour, I spied him emerging from the surf carrying a piece of white coral and a weathered diving mask.

“Alex! Alex!” I shouted as I ran toward him.

By the enthusiasm oozing from my face, Alex knew immediately that I had sprouted my fins. He was beaming with approval. “Congratulations, little man. I knew you could do it,” he said in a kind, soothing tone. “You earned a reward. Today, I will show you my secret treasure trove.”

“Wow!” I exclaimed, “When can we go?”

“Right after lunch,” he shot back. “You’re gonna need a full belly for this journey.”

I could hardly wait!

After lunch I met Alex back at the beach. As we walked in the surf, Alex told me about his village in the mountains and how much he cared for his family. “They are everything to me and I am rich because of them,” he said. “Sometimes I must risk my own life for them by diving deep into the ocean. That’s where the precious shells and pearls can be found, and I am greatly rewarded for them.”

Suddenly, I saw a beautiful pearlescent balloon floating in the water, and I ran toward it. Just before I reached the purple orb, Alex, reacting like a cheetah grabbing its prey, scooped me up in his arms and tossed me onto the sand.

Clearing my eyes, I watched the ballooned object wrap around Alex’s leg, which prevented it from reaching me. After jabbing the balloon with a stick and tossing it into the palm-tree lined woods, Alex kneeled down next to me. In a somber tone he asked, “Are you okay, little man? You are very lucky. That was not a balloon. That was a Portuguese Man-of-War, and they are very deadly. If that balloon touched you, you would be no more. The doctors are too far away to stop its poison.”

Just then I noticed red burn marks on Alex’s leg. With tears welling up in my eyes, I asked, “Did it get you? Are you going to die?”

“Don’t worry, little man. I am fine. I have built up resistance to those terrible creatures,” he said. He then showed me numerous other scars he attained from his diving ordeals.

Nodding my head slowly, I said, “Thank you for saving me. Your family must love you very much because you are very brave.”

After a long trek down the barren beach, we reached a small hidden jungle path that guided us to Alex’s secret treasure trove. Alex handed me a large empty soda bottle to collect small shells and a plastic bag for coral and conch shells and said, “Take whatever you can carry. My treasure is now your treasure.”

I filled my cargo hold to the brim with pearly wonders and returned to my family to share the Caribbean booty I acquired.

“Wow! Where did you get all of these?” my brother yelled as I spilled the loot onto the bed.

“I can’t tell you. It’s a secret between me and Alex the Pool Man. He made me promise not to tell anyone,” I said with conviction.

“Awww, come on,” he pleaded.

Just then my mother poked her head into the room to see what the commotion was. “Those are very beautiful shells. You are a lucky boy and you have a good friend there in Alex,” she said.

“Can I please visit Alex’s village,” I asked. “Alex told me all about it today, and I want him to take me there.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” my mother replied. “Your dad and I have to check with Alex and the resort people first.”

The next day the arrangements were secured and I was on my way with Alex to visit his village.

“I am so happy you will meet my family, little man,” Alex said with a smile that beamed from ear-to-ear. “This will be a very special time for you—a very special time. Everyone in my village is waiting to greet you. I have told them all about you. They’ve been preparing for your arrival all morning.”

After a thirty-minute drive we reached the gate to Alex’s village. He stopped his car next to a large splendorous tree. “That is one of our trees of life,” he said, pointing through his front windshield. “It bears much fruit to keep our village healthy.”

I opened the car door and jumped out into the alien landscape, ready for my adventure. The first thing I spied was an elderly woman holding a small trowel that glistened in the sunlight. She was rebuilding mud steps attached to a small thatch roofed hut.

Bewildered at the sight, I asked Alex, “Why is your grandma making steps? Where I come from, workmen do that.”

Alex chuckled. In a soothing Jamaican accent he said, “Here, we all help build our community. Everyone is equal, and we all share equally.”

I did a quick survey of the surroundings and found the entire village to be modest, with mud hut accommodations for everyone. After taking a second glance around, I asked Alex, “Are you poor people?”

With a hearty laugh and a pat on my shoulder, Alex replied, “We may not have much money, but our hearts are rich with love.”

I heard laughter behind me and spun around to see a large group of children streaming out of the village. The children engulfed me in a circle and laid tropical fruit on the ground all around me. Several boys broke from the circle and climbed a nearby plush tree to harvest more fresh fruit. “More for you! More for you! Come! Come!” they yelled as they tossed avocados to me to add to the bounty at my feet.

Although the children were all dressed in worn-out clothes and didn’t seem to have any toys, they struck me as the happiest group of peers I had ever met.

In a somewhat embarrassed tone, I said, “I am just like you. You don’t have to do anything special for me.”

Just as those words left my mouth, a villager placed a crown made of palm leaves on my head. The children then trotted a small donkey over and motioned for me to mount it. They guided the donkey and me around the village, as if I was royal prince. It was quite a majestic experience, and the beauty of the village radiated from everywhere.

I finished my parade at the tree that first welcomed me. Alex hoisted me onto his shoulders, pointed to the valley below, and said, “Look down there to see the beauty of my island.”

The view was a picture-perfect postcard that only God could create. A lush green valley wrapped in an aquamarine ocean blanket filled my eyes and my heart. That was the crown jewel in Alex’s treasure, and I had this one all to myself.

*****

Forty years later, my parents and I were reminiscing about Jamaica while looking at some old pictures of our trip. When we came across a picture of Alex and me, my mom asked, “Do you remember this gentleman?”

I replied, “Yes, and I still think about his special village in the mountains. Thank you for letting him take me there. It was an enchanted, memorable experience and something I will always think fondly of. Believe it or not, I still have some of the shells he gave me!”

My mother laughed and said, “Do you know what I will always remember?”

Perplexed, I said, “No.”

“You really don’t recall what you did?” she prodded.

“No, mom…What?”

She grinned and said, “You asked us to give all of your clothes to the children in Alex’s village. The only thing you returned home with were the clothes on your back.”

With a gracious beam I said, “I believe I returned home with much more than that, didn’t I?

My mother nodded in affirmation. “Yes, you did…you most certainly did.”