How a Pool Noodle Changed My Life

(This is a repost from a blog I had several years ago, but it was a good lesson.)

First of all let me preface this by saying I’ve never been a particularly religious person. My faith is  sort of an odd patchwork of ideas I’ve picked up in various churches, passages I’ve read in books, lessons I’ve learned from people I’ve met, and maybe there are a few ideas of my own thrown in there, too. It’s quite possible I’m going to hell in a hand basket, but I don’t know.  I just like to think of myself as a weird little soul just fumbling around through this life trying to learn and grow through experience. So there’s that, for whatever it’s worth.

That being said, I do like to acknowledge when God, the Universe, or whatever IT is reveals something to me, and I take these lessons very seriously.

This is a story about a pool noodle. A pool noodle very much like this one, but not this one.

I had taken the boys to the pool that day, and the oldest, having no further use for his noodle, left it to float away freely. No big deal, there weren’t many families there, and it was only a noodle after all. When we had finished swimming, I gathered up my boys and our belongings and headed for the playground to play in the sun and dry off a bit before getting into the car.  That’s when I saw another child playing with our free roaming noodle.

“No big deal,” I thought to myself. “He can play with it until we are ready to leave.”
Then I gave myself a mental pat on the back for being so decent and sharing my noodle.

All was right with the world until, out of the corner of my eye, I spied the boy taking my noodle and putting it in the chair next to his mother.

OH. NO. YOU. DIDN’T.

I felt my pulse quicken, my chest tighten. I had to investigate further. Surely this kid was not thinking of taking my noodle. I did a quick stroll around the pool just to be sure there were no other rogue noodles before I marched up to his mother to (very politely) demand my property back.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Is that your noodle?”

“Yeah, we just picked it up at the Dollar General on the way here.”

“Oh, OK, because we have one that looks just like it and it’s missing.”

“Sorry.”

That was the confrontation. I’m not one to start fights at swimming pools over toys that cost a dollar, but I was angry. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I became.  Not only did these people steal from me, they lied about it. So the whole time my kids were playing, I’m staring at this woman sunbathing next to my noodle, and my anger is growing into rage and taking on a life of its own. Inside my brain is a viciousness, a steady churn of hateful thoughts. “You’re a lying liar and a thief, and you’re teaching your kids to be dirty lying thieves, too!”

I had to explain to my kids that our noodle was gone. Of course there was some whining in response, and a chorus of “Why? Why?”
“Because we didn’t take care of our things. We need to write our name on our things next time, ” was my response. But in my mind was a litany of swear words, all directed at this lying, thieving woman and her lying thieving kids. They are what’s wrong with the world today! They are the reason good, decent people can’t go to the pool and have a good time without worrying about someone stealing their stuff.
We gathered our snacks and towels and began our noodle-less walk toward the exit.

That’s when I saw it.

A little girl popped out of the water, noodle in hand, and made her way to the lifeguard stand. She placed the noodle, MY noodle on the ground next to the lifeguard and jumped back into the water.

I glanced back over at the lying thieving woman and her kids and HER noodle and I immediately felt very small.

I was wrong. I sent my son to go retrieve our property and I stood there, alone in my shame. We left the pool with everything we had come with and went home.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not really. Not for me, anyway. I just couldn’t get over how angry I had become, and how quick I was to blame this woman, whom I had never met, and how quick I was to hate her. I mean HATE. I hated her. I thought the most horrible things about her and I was so self-righteous and justified in my anger and hatred of this woman. All over a pool toy that costs a dollar.  So much ugliness, all over a cheap, piece of crap pool toy.  It was as if God, the Universe, or whatever IT is held up a mirror in front of me and showed me the mean, bitchy, hateful side of myself that I like to pretend doesn’t exist. Oh, it exists, all right!

I was humbled. I was humbled by a noodle.

So from now on I will not be so quick to rush to judgement, so quick to anger,  or so quick to hate.

And thank you for the lesson. I needed it.

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