Last November I had the good fortune of attending a writers workshop in Charlotte, NC. The weekend was wonderful, filled with new friends, new aspirations, new visions of the future. But my goals and aspirations have nothing to do with what I discovered in the Charlotte airport bathroom.
As I was waiting for my return flight home from Charlotte, I visited the ladies room. As one does. There was a line (as there always is) and as I waited I was slightly outside of the restroom. I couldn’t actually see the stalls yet but I could hear a lot of activity inside. There seemed to be a lot of bustling around and someone constantly talking. I wondered what I was about to behold. A frazzled mother trying to wrangle little ones and carry-ons? The traveler who talks to any stranger, even in the bathroom?
As I rounded the corner I saw a woman in a staff uniform, greeting each person as they made their way to a stall to do their business. The Charlotte airport employed a bathroom attendant. But she wasn’t just greeting women, wiping down the counter or handing out paper towels and mints. After every single person exited a stall, she would quickly jump in the stall, spritz the toilet with cleaner and wipe it down.
This woman’s day was spent literally wiping down toilets, in front of a crowd.
Let me rephrase that so I can make myself absolutely clear: She was in a constant state of cleaning toilets.
In a public restroom.
And that’s not the most amazing part. She was doing it joyfully, with speed, efficiency and with a spring in her step. She cleaned like she was receiving a free trip to Disneyland for every toilet she wiped down.
Each person waited a few seconds longer than normal to do their business to allow her to do hers.
When it was my turn, I passed her into my freshly cleaned stall, looked into her eyes and whispered thank you. She answered back with a chipper you’re welcome, welcomed the next person who entered the restroom and jumped into the next open stall to quickly freshen it up for the next woman waiting in line. Every so often she would take a quick break from toilet cleaning to wipe the counter dry. Because the casual user can’t be bothered with wiping away the water they splash everywhere, she did that for us.
In a place built around schedules and stress, where strangers come and go and pass each other without a second thought, here was holy in the ordinary. An ordinary bathroom in an ordinary airport, there was a glimpse of beauty and human connection. In a place where eyes are always downcast, where we are focused on our own needs, a place where I purposefully avoid eye contact so as to not have to talk or interact with someone, I looked into the face of someone serving me with joy and was humbled. I had a vision of Jesus kneeling before his disciples, insisting he wash their dirty feet. Surely this is the type of person Andrew Lloyd Webber had in mind when he wrote the lyric To love another person is to see the face of God.
I’m still marveling at what I witnessed that ordinary day in November. Here was a woman cleaning toilet after toilet in a public restroom and seemed genuinely happy to do it. A more humble servant I cannot imagine. My mind has wandered to this woman over the past few months now and then. Could I display such joy and selfless acts of kindness for those closest to me?
Thank you, Charlotte airport. You don’t have to employ a bathroom attendant but for some reason you do. It’s not a position that is essential in getting planes off the ground on time or people to their destination safely. However, it is a position essential in maintaining our connection with humanity. Thank you, Charlotte airport for giving me and every woman who used that bathroom on that day a witness of humble service.
On that day I discovered that even joy and the holy can be found in an airport bathroom.