I have always been taught not to judge others. Leave the judging to God. We just have to give others the benefit of the doubt. I internalized these ideas and I tried to transmit them to my children. I thought that I had succeeded and then something happened that taught us all an important lesson. An experience has the power to teach and transform in a way that preachy words just cannot.
We were on vacation and the kids wanted to swim. We found an olympic sized indoor pool and we arrived one evening an hour before closing. We noticed that the pool had lap lanes for the serious swimmers and a wider area for the families that just wanted to swim leisurely and play in the pool. We noticed that the pool had handicap access and that there was a wheelchair at the side of the pool.
We entered the pool area and the kids got down to pool business. They tried to play Marco Polo. They tried to make handstands and cartwheels underwater. They tried to swim leisurely.
They were unable to enjoy any of the fun things they were used to doing in the pool.
There was a man in one of the lap lanes swimming with such vigor that he was creating waves in the pool. The intensity of his swimming precluded anyone else from leisurely enjoying the pool.
The kids asked me to intervene.
I felt badly. The man seemed to be enjoying his swim and was so focused. Anyways, it didn’t seem that he could sustain the vigorous swimming for much longer. I looked at the clock. There were forty-five minutes left until pool closing
I negotiated with the kids. Should we give him twenty minutes more before we complained? They wanted to swim right away. We compromised and all agreed to wait ten minutes before complaining to him or to the lifeguard on duty.
Five minutes later, we were delighted to see that he was winding down and heading to his last lap. We collectively breathed a sigh of relief and watched him exit the pool. He hoisted himself up to the side using only his arms and plunked himself in the wheelchair.
And then we understood everything. The man had no legs.
We never used words to crowd the experiential “aha” that we experienced that evening. It was just one of those moments that taught us about giving others the benefit of the doubt.