On a recent trip to Italy, when a rainstorm took us by surprise, a kind owner of a nearby restaurant handed me a gift of a blue plaid umbrella, sparking a childhood memory.
Rainy days in first grade were generally chaotic, with rain hats, raincoats, boots, umbrellas, and sundry other vital paraphernalia just waiting to be forgotten.
So when the teacher commanded us to get our belongings from the closet at the end of the school day, it was bedlam. Who had just one boot? Who lost a glove? And all the while those clocks ticked and bells rang, signaling buses and dismissal and time too quickly passing for excited youngsters.
In the midst of that frenzy, I grabbed my raincoat out of the closet that was crammed with other kids and reached down for my blue plaid umbrella. In almost the same moment, a small boy in my class snatched it first.
“That’s my umbrella!” I said indignantly.
“No, it’s mine,” he said meekly, though never relinquishing his grip.
“It’s mine!” I yelled louder, as if that made me right. “Look at the handle,” I added. “Mine has a broken handle,” I said, pleading my case more logically.
He looked down at the telltale broken handle, but still maintained his grip, despite the damning evidence.
Frustrated and infuriated, we resorted to a tug-of-war for a few minutes, until the teacher’s command to line up made me rethink my position.
Was the umbrella really worth getting in trouble for? It was broken after all, I reasoned. But my other self argued, it’s mine! I thought, “I should just grab it out of his hands, the little twerp,”
I sized up my opponent who was just an inch shorter than me.
Still, something deeper inside me said, “Angel, it’s just an umbrella. Get on line before you get in trouble. And then your mother will kill you.”
And so, I took the higher road, though not altogether graciously.
“Oh, keep the umbrella if it means that much to you!” I told the boy. “It’s broken anyway!” Then I stormed out of the classroom, just in time to join the walkers as they were dismissed from the building.
I grumbled the whole way home, although the mile walk with my best friend Natalie soothed my anger, as we listed the “at leasts” in the situation: At least it’s not raining now ... At least it was broken. And I probably needed a new umbrella anyway.
When I turned up the front walkway to my house, I waved goodbye to Natalie, appeased by the healing power of a best friend and a good long walk. The smell of cinnamon as I opened the door announced that Mom had made butterfly cookies — my favorite — and the umbrella was forgotten, that is until I opened my closet door to put my raincoat away and saw my blue plaid umbrella, complete with broken handle, lying there on the closet floor, exactly where it had been all day.
I was stunned.
I just stood there looking at it, the image burned in my memory even today.
“But I was positive …” I thought. “But the broken handle …”
All the evidence just seemed to prove I was right. Yet, I was, in fact, very wrong.
On that day, an ordinary umbrella, with a manufacturer’s faulty handle, taught me the lesson of a lifetime. When, invariably, I find myself engaged in some heated debate, even when all the evidence seems to support my argument, the image of that blue umbrella comes vividly to mind, and I am compelled to add, “But, of course, I could be wrong.”
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