The ugly girl at the city pool.
I took my kids to the city pool the other day. We were visiting my mom for the weekend. We had twelve hours to fill on Saturday, and no matter how hard we tried we couldn't come up with a good substitute for the pool. And so we went.
There are several things that I expect when I go to a public pool. I have never been a candidate for a swim suit photo shoot, but certainly there were times when I came closer than today. The thought of squeezing my post-baby body into an unforgiving lycra suit is about as exciting as a poached egg. In fact, if it weren't for the sake of my kids I would probably avoid it all together.
So we went, and as I was saying, I had these expectations. I expected to be uncomfortable. I knew that in those thirty seconds between removing my cover-up and getting myself neck deep in the water (which isn't easy when you're in the 2 foot deep kiddie pool) I would be uncomfortable. I expected to be motivated. I knew that there were sure to be a few of the super mom's in bikini's with no stretch marks or boob-saggage out at the pool, which is always good motivation to get back in the gym. And I expected to have a moment of clarity where I said to myself, "Screw it, I'm here to have fun with my kids, and that's what I'm going to do."
What I didn't expect was to be the ugly girl at the city pool. But I was.
See, I didn't like the pool's policy on floaties. You know, those little things the kids wear on their arms when they're learning to swim? I didn't like that my kids weren't allow to wear them in the pool, and I really didn't like the posted explanation implying that I might leave my kids to be solely supervised by a thin piece of rubber with some air in it. And so I did that incredibly rational thing that I see so often, I let the sixteen year old girl at the desk (who has absolutely no control over policy-making) know just how stupid I thought that was. And while I didn't make a scene or use profanity, I was rude, and I was ugly.
For the hour and half that followed, while my kids swam and played, I was overcome by that ugliness. I was embarrassed, and dreading the time when I would have to walk back by her to leave. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't that big of a deal, everyone had moments when they gave voice to their frustrations, even silly ones. I see it every day, people who get crunk with the girl who takes their order at McDonald's because the prices have gone up or the McRib is off the menu, and while the decisions are being made way up at the top of the totem pole, she's the face on the ground that gets the heat. We all do it, right? So why couldn't I shake it off?
As I left I hung my head and passed by her, hoping she had somehow forgotten my face. I wondered if she had been replaying it in her head as I often did after irritating interactions with people. I wondered if she was imagining what it would have felt like to lean over that desk and punch me in the face. I wondered if she had been having a good morning up until that point, or if that was just another negative added to the stinking pile that was becoming a bad day. I wondered if customers who challenged the policies made her hate her job. I wondered, if I had wounded her.
I got ten steps out of the gate when I turned around and went back to the desk to apologize to her. She had tears in her eyes when she thanked me. We commiserated for a minute about the "joys" of working with the public and how the customer really isn't always right, in fact most of the time the customer is an idiot. She laughed and I told her that I understood the policy, in fact the more I had pondered it while being whipped around the lazy river holding three wiggling kids in bulky life vests, the more I understood and appreciated it. I left, still feeling like a schmuck, but at least a schmuck who had acknowledged her schmuckiness and hopefully mended some of its damage.
But still a schmuck.
And I wondered, through the rest of the day and into the night, I wondered about that girl's story. I knew all of the dominoes in my own life that had fallen before the final one tipped and pushed that ugly girl out of me. I knew my own back story, but I didn't know hers. And it occurred to me how very reckless I had been. How reckless we all are, every day, when we allow ourselves to act out of impulse and emotion. I wondered what kind of wake I had left, all the times I have responded with a snide remark or a harsh criticism where silence would have been better suited. I wondered how many people I have left reeling with frustration, replaying conversations in their heads and wishing they had told me off instead of taking the high road. I wondered how many strangers had looked at me and seen only an ugly girl with a mean spirit. I wondered how many opportunities I had squandered, trading in kindness and instead giving vent to my self-indulgence.
I put off writing this until today, hoping I could avoid it and just sit on it, learning my own lesson quietly rather than sharing it with the world. But the prompting would not go away and I knew I needed to confess it, and with that confession to issue a challenge.
A challenge to end our recklessness.
Occupying a pew on Sunday morning does no good if we echo it with harsh words spoken to our waitress over lunch. Posting a dozen scriptures a day on our Facebook pages is absolutely empty if we sandwich them with slanderous posts about people we disagree with politically. Dropping a bag of groceries at the food pantry is a ridiculous gesture when we pass silent judgement on every person we pass on our way out.
Wanting to save the world is futile, if I can't even show kindness to the girl at the city pool.
We are reckless, arrogant fools, if we think we are entitled to anything in this life. If we think we have a right to express our distaste just because something isn't how we think it should be. Just because someone dares to inconvenience us, or fails to cater to our preference. We are ugly. And I don't know about you, but I am painfully aware of that ugliness, and I am going to fight it. As much as it hurts, as embarrassing as it is, I pray I am never again blind to that ugly side of myself. I want to be aware of her, I want to know what triggers her, and I want to fight her with everything I've got. Because while she is getting her panties twisted over silly things like floaties, there is true injustice happening all around her. It is time to re-focus.