They were three kids, all under 11, thoroughly enjoying the hotel pool. They were unsupervised; there was no evidence of an adult, but they were having fun. I let myself in, grabbed a seat, and prepared for a dip. They were wary; the oldest one was a girl, and the younger two clearly deferred to her. It was a small, kindey shaped pool, but I put on a cap and goggles and edged into the warm water. They just watched. Then the little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, asked if I was an Olymic swimmer. His sister quickly reminded him not to talk to strangers. That was when I introduced myself as a teacher and a visitor to Springfield, Illinois, for a conference on Lincoln. I told them where I was from, what grades I taught, and waited. Finally…
“If you’re not a stranger, then, we could talk,” the eldest determined. A flurry of information spilled out from all three: their names and family, their schools and friends. We spent the next couple of hours chatting about how they got in, where they were supposed to be, and then some basic lessons about swimming, just floating, and breathing with even more conversation. They lived nearby in Lincoln Housing. The mom and grandmom were out working and they were supposed to be in the apartment. However, it was really hot, and they knew they could sneak into the pool area with a plastic card. Most days, they got in and out without getting caught. It was generally easier on weekdays; the weekend security guards were less understanding. They advised me that the roof was lovely, also locked, but there was shade up there and you could see their building. Of course, if caught up there, they would also be in trouble. That ran the gamut from being scolded severely to being lead out like criminals to their mom being called (the worst of all. Disappointing her was the worst of all, but it was SO hot, and if she didn’t know…). And so I became an accomplice to the subterfuge, and we became an unlikely quartet for a very short while.
What I learned from them was how hard life can be, how ironic that in the home of Lincoln, kids were still struggling with the realities of poverty. I learned how powerful are the bonds of family and how very innovative and daring kids can be, and how sometimes, we can be a bit more forgiving and a lot more proactive. I think of them often and wonder what the last few years have brought them. But mostly, I remember the power of their interdependence, the ways they looked out for one another, and the way they made friends with a stranger. I remember, too, the responsibility they accepted for their actions, and the ways they expressed love and respect for the women who were raising them. I remember how they made me think about what really matters.
And all that reminded me that the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, right where we are. The pearls of great price are right before our eyes. We have only to notice.