On a crowded beach in a small town in the south of Spain, bathed by the calm and warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, among the large and colorful umbrellas that provided shelter from the beaming sun, there was a small umbrella with rainbow stripes much shorter than all of the others. You know, one of those folding umbrellas that’s the perfect size to comfortably take on a picnic.
The owner of that beach, Mr. Rib, had brought it back to Spain with him from the seaside town on the long coast of New York where he had grown up, and where every night, he dreamed of returning.
Since it was so small, beach-goers always left the little umbrella by itself, much preferring to use larger umbrellas that were more protective from the scorching sun.
Only occasionally did an energetic child ask Mr. Rib to pull the little umbrella out of the warehouse next to the paddle boat shed to play under its shadow, turning it into a small hut, the cockpit of a spaceship, or a lifeboat.
But every evening, when all the umbrellas were stored in the warehouse, the little umbrella was always left alone. None of the larger umbrellas had any interest in talking to him. Truth be told, many of them had never even noticed his presence!
One day, one of the large umbrellas with wide yellow and blue stripes noticed the small rainbow umbrella all alone in one corner, turned to him and said, “Hey you, little one, why are you so quiet? Maybe you don’t enjoy the hot summer, the chatter of the people, the scent of fresh coconut and sunscreen? This is without a doubt the best season for us umbrellas!”
The rainbow umbrella, though at first intimidated, found the courage to reply: “You see, you are a big umbrella, everyone on the beach needs you to shelter them from the hot sun. Everyday you come out of this warehouse to shelter loving couples, happy families, and seasoned athletes. But I… I am so small that nobody here wants me. Where I came from, I was important! Noone went to the beach without a small folding umbrella that was able to withstand the strong wind without flying away. Now, everything is different. Even those few times that someone asks about me, the children fill me with sand, which ends up ruining my pins, or they pull me right and left to have fun in the most extravagant games. Oh… how I long to find someone who likes to read a good book or listen to music in my shadow!”
Then, the big umbrella said with a sympathetic and loving tone: “I am very sorry that this beach isn’t a happy place for you, but at least from now on you should know that you will always have a good friend that will listen to you and comfort you!”
That was the beginning of a long friendship. Every evening in the warehouse, the large yellow and blue umbrella stood next to the small rainbow umbrella and told him about everything that had happened under his shadow during the day so that he too could feel like a part of the cheerful life of the beach.
The summer season ended in the blink of an eye, but spring returned just as quickly.
When the time came to begin preparing to reopen the beach, however, instead of undergoing the usual maintenance, the umbrellas were loaded onto a large truck which then set off for an unknown destination.
The little rainbow umbrella was very scared: “Where are they taking us? We have been traveling for hours. What if they want to get rid of us? Nothing like this has ever happened until now…”
After a long and what seemed like an infinite amount of time spent in the dark truck, the engine came to a stop and, to everyone’s fear, the truck doors opened.
Suddenly, the fresh and salty smell of the sea filled the truck. What an incredible view that stood before the umbrellas! A very long golden beach, framed by lush sand dunes that went on for as far as the eye could see. Tall and foaming waves broke on the shore as if caressing it while creating a sort of relaxing music that was very different from the calm murmur of the sea that the umbrellas had always been used to.
However, the initial surprise quickly turned into concern… they noticed that there were no beach umbrellas around them, just a very strong wind that caused the colored flags of the lifeguard towers to wave frantically.
“Now what? How will we not fly away?” asked the umbrellas.
Despite their concern, Mr. Rib’s face was radiant with happiness. Yes, this was the beach where he had grown up and where he had finally managed to return!
And so, Mr. Rib had already thought of a solution to firmly affix his large umbrellas to the beach. Perhaps it would be a little more uncomfortable for them, but it would certainly be much safer. It turned out that he could use strong cables to attach the umbrellas to heavy metals clamps. Even though the cables pulled at the colored tarp of the umbrellas and twisted them unnaturally (which was especially uncomfortable for the older umbrellas), in the end they willingly accepted this method as the great shadow makers could then accomplish their tasks calmly without the worry of blowing away.
It was almost impossible to read a magazine or even be heard by one’s neighbor when the wind blew strongest. However, it was on those days that of all the umbrellas, only one was continuously the first (if not the only one!) to be requested: the little rainbow umbrella, perfectly made to shelter folks from the strong wind without covering too much of the pleasant and warm sun.
And on those days, when most of the big umbrellas remained closed in the shed, it was the little umbrella that in the evening told the big yellow and blue umbrella about its day to distract him from the boredom that set in after spending hours waiting for a new day, hoping that the wind would turn.
After all, that’s what friends are for, right?!