Nurturing Compassion … in public restrooms

Recently I’ve felt my heart expand with compassion while in public restrooms. Yup, I’m just as surprised as you may be.

Each week, Bill and I drive between Marstons Mills, MA and Belfast, ME. We usually break up the trip at the Kennebunk rest area, where our two dogs are eager to re-establish their proprietary rights over the picnic table legs, trash cans, and light posts. One of us walks the dogs while the other hustles inside to pee. Last week, I went first, since I had been squiggling in my seat since we crossed the New Hampshire border. My body knows the routine – in through the vestibule, quick left into the ladies room, and a right to head straight into “my” stall. Like the dogs, I have a preferred place to pee and tend to use the same stall nearly every time.

But not last week. I entered the bathroom, turned right, looked up, and SOMEONE WAS IN MY STALL! I froze in place and stared at the door. It was the weirdest feeling, but my brain simply could not comprehend that the stall was occupied. Now mind you, within 15 feet of me were 6 empty stalls, but it took a full minute for me to select one. It had been so long since I had to choose a stall, that I was at a loss. After scanning each option, my need to pee ultimately made the decision and I bravely crossed the aisle and entered a new stall. I came out of the stall and turned left to wash my hands and nearly walked into a wall … because my new throne was facing the opposite way. What a bizarre experience! I was laughing at myself and shaking my head, since I don’t consider myself too bound by routines. Unless I’m at the Kennebunk Rest Area.

This three minute experience filled my heart with compassion for the participants who were traveling to Limina for our first grief retreat that weekend. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that for many of the guests, not a damn thing in their lives was an easy decision anymore. The small habits and routines of their lives had been flipped upside down, whether all at once (for folks whose loved ones died abruptly) or one exceptionally painful loss at a time. While I chuckled at my flummoxed condition at the rest area, my heart ached for all who grieve and find themselves called up short by the oddest experiences in the oddest places.

When our habits and routines are no longer secure, daily life takes an immense amount of energy. If a partner dies, there are questions of making coffee, feeding pets, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, paying the bills, car maintenance, and a million more previously routine activities of daily living that now require active decisions. No wonder we’re so frequently exhausted and can feel like we’re losing our minds when grieving.

Even when I’m not actively grieving a loss, my memory can be a bit spotty. So I was grateful for the second bathroom epiphany that came to me this morning, while spending time at Bread and Roses cafe in Hyannis. I often lament my poor memory for books I have read, movies I have seen, poems and song lyrics… and more than occasionally worry about the Alzheimer’s disease that runs in our family. While making room for another cup of coffee, I was delighted by a picture in the wall (see above). Self-compassion welled up in me as I realized I’m not alone, even Emerson struggled to remember what he had read or eaten for dinner the night before. Everything I have ever taken into my body, mind or spirit has been part of my becoming, especially all the people and pets who now reside in the heavenly realm.

Dear ones, opening our hearts can come at any time and in any place. I pray that the Spirit will bless you with these surprises, at just the moment when you need a boost. 

With love and blessings,