Doing New Things: What I’m Learning from Pool Maintenance

I’ve already promised my husband that the moment he is here to stay, pool maintenance becomes his responsibility. I never pictured myself as a person with the means to have a pool, nor does it make sense with our 1904 home, but there it is: an in-ground pool put in decades ago. And our kids are enthralled. But let me tell you, there is a lot to learn. Once we got it opened and running, there still was quite a bit to vacuum off the bottom of the deep end, and a steep learning curve for me on what that means. It’s also a saltwater pool, into which I’ve scattered lots of salt and reached acceptable levels, but the “chorlinator” isn’t sensing it so I’ve “re-calibrated” it twice to no avail. Which brings us to this weekend.

I’d love to find some meaning here, a far-reaching analogy that will preach. Maybe you’ll see that in the story I tell. But it is also quite literally what is filling my preacher’s mind this Sunday.

I Need These People

I need the folks at the local, family-run pool shop here in small-town Ohio. If it were an election year, we’d probably know more about each other’s politics between bumper stickers and overheard comments, but I’m grateful those things are not muddying the waters, so to speak. They are the experts, and good-naturedly coaching me through every excruciating step of how I am to pull myself up by my own bootstraps into becoming a responsible pool owner. Sigh. One of the older guys assured me yesterday, “You are getting it. It just takes time.”

Defining Terms

One of the pitfalls of consulting people who know what they are talking about, however, is that they don’t seem to grasp how little I know, despite my constant demonstration of this void. I not only need steps explained from before wherever they think the beginning is, but I need photos of the parts they are referring to, preferably the exact model that I have at home.

Acquiring New Tools

My most recent escapade included two problems, one of which is that vacuuming leaves from the depths of the deep end seems to be exhausting my system’s suction power too rapidly. One of the pool shop employees helpfully showed me on a sand filter model they have, how I needed to open the top, reach my arm in, and discover whether there is a layer of sludge or debris on top of the sand.

I said that I deserved a trip to Hawaii after all this, and they asked if the entire pool shop staff gets to go with me.

Second, it sounded like my “cell” needs cleaning in order to read the salt level and turn it into chlorine. They showed me a photo of a “cell” on an advertisement, at my prompting. When I returned an hour later to say that I am unable to do either of the things they told me to do because the cell and sand filter are so tightly attached to pipes with “end locks” (they gave me that term) too big for my largest wrench, they said, “Oh yeah. You’ll need a ‘channel lock wrench’ for that.” They don’t sell those in the store, but one of them went to the back and brought one out so I could see what it is. It’s giant, and will come in handy for other plumbing I might ever need to do, they say. “If there’s other plumbing to be done ever,” I said, “I’ll be calling a plumber.”

Also Clueless but Helpful

My parents know nothing of pool maintenance, so step by step I’ve been consulting the pool shop on my own, but once I return from the hardware store with the world’s largest wrench to remove a turbo cell and sand filter from the pvc pipes, I know I need my dad. Thankfully he is unflappable, seemingly undaunted in the face of anything mechanical he’s never seen before. “You want this to come off of there?” he asks, then figures out the right angle and gets to work. We take it all apart, soak the “cell” in the kind of acid they sold me at the pool shop for two hours and come back to it after dinner. Except then the motor is running but the pump isn’t actually pumping water. We’re stymied.

Sometimes Help Arrives Virtually

Feeling defeated, I ask the internet “Why won’t the pool pump water?” and learn about the need to “prime” a pump if it has lost prime, which it certainly did because no one told me to close the valve to the “skimmer” while doing any of these things. I voice my frustration and defeat to my husband over the phone that evening and he attempts to trouble-shoot via WhatsApp video chat, later sending me a helpful YouTube video. I remind him once again that this will all be his job in a few weeks. And I tell him about the trip to Hawaii.

Re-Wiring My Brain

Mechanical trouble-shooting is not my strength. I get intimidated if the steps I am told don’t work the first time, and my brain shuts down. I need to consult with someone whose brain doesn’t do this, even virtually. But also, I am very slowly gaining confidence to look around and do a minimal amount of guesswork and figuring things out on my own. I find myself using the vocabulary I have learned, integrating bits of understanding. For example, I pulled the pump basket out of the pump, to find that it is cracked. Aha! There’s one more reason the suction power might be lagging. Now I need another trip to the pool shop when it opens, before I can try again. And since that still didn’t work, I’ll be asking the pool shop guy that does house calls to look at it soon.

Maybe it’s just a self-deprecating story.

But maybe it applies more broadly. There are similar stops and starts and angst and help as the church attempts to translate the life of faith into our current moment. Once we’ve recognized that there are problems and we cannot go on as we have been, we start the process virtually clueless. There are experts, who might assume we all speak the same language or have the same starting point – but we do not. Also, they cannot see the full picture of our context, so can only give us ideas. In becoming the Church of 2021 and beyond, we will need tools we do not yet have, to meet the moment, living into the Body of Christ on this Earth. For congregations to adapt and innovate, there are virtual resources out there in the form of people elsewhere to consult and content available at any time of day via the internet. (I joyfully work for one of them!) We probably even have willing but similarly inexperienced people nearby with whom to take the next steps forward. But be forewarned: nothing is going to be accomplished in a day.

Learning something new, spending time, effort and frustration on something we are not good at yet is excruciating. I can attest. It is very tempting to abandon this project and go back to what we know how to do, “the way it used to be.” But we have this new thing before us, with such potential for delight and new life. We just have to learn how clean it up so it can do what it is designed to do.

1 thought on “Doing New Things: What I’m Learning from Pool Maintenance”

  1. Love this. I too get stymied quickly and afraid I will break something or make it worse instead of the fixing I intend. Great metaphor for the current state of church. I so admire our colleagues doing the hard work on every level.


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