One day last summer I went to the beach much earlier than usual. A scorching hot day had been forecast and I wanted to miss the midday heat. After a refreshing swim in the sea, I found a patch of shade at the top of the beach near some steps and reclined languidly on my towel.
I was nearly asleep when I heard a loud panting sound emanating from behind me. It sounded like an animal in pain. I swivelled around to see a young man and a feeble, elderly woman laboriously making their way down the stairs. The old lady's cautious steps were small and so precarious that I feared she'd topple down.
The friend accompanying her didn't seem at all perturbed by the old woman's frailty. He held her firmly and shuffled slowly alongside her with patience and precision - despite that, it seemed to take forever. I surmised he was her carer.
Once at the bottom of the steps, the man proceeded to lead the woman towards the sea. The old lady hooked her arm through his, clinging to his strength with all her life. Her steps were painstaking and labourer - so quivery and uncertain that it seemed like she might be carried away in the summer breeze.
I felt a pang in my chest as I watched her. A sadness. As the pair shuffled past me, I could see that the lady was ancient - maybe over a hundred years old. The skin on her face was translucent and papery. like a much read family bible. Her white legs, thin and rickety, had a network of blue veins as intricate as lace.
By the time the pair made it to the water, I was back in myself. The old lady looked diminutive in the sea, despite support from her friend. When they reached deeper water, her companion gently let her go and swam away. My heart skipped a beat. But the old lady just serenely lay her head on the water. Clouds of white hair cascaded around her head like a halo.
And then she was off! She glided against the tide with long, powerful strokes. And adroitly sliced through the waves in wide circles. I couldn't believe the change in her - it was as if she were a snake shedding its skin. Now, she was a young Olympian swimmer. Powerful and fearless. Her strokes were strong and steady. Effortless. She passed by a myriad of other swimmers with ease. I saw her face as she swam past me - it radiated youthful joy.
The old lady swam to her companion then and it was apparently time to go because he guided her to the waters edge. I shocked me to see her helpless again - shaky and dependent once more, as she made the laborious journey back up the beach.
That transformation. That change, from very old to brand new - I think about it sometimes. To me, it felt like a glimpse of heaven.
This story was first published in 2020 by Gaynor Faulkner in the The Swimmer and Other Stories of Life. For more true stories of faith, visit the storiesoflife.net.