“God hath sent me blue water…” Says my daughter, Rebecca, triumphant and independent who perseveres in an ancient cottage the next town over with an on-again, off-again working toilet.
So the bright red colored, “blue water” contraption arrives, literally sitting ten feet from her back door.
“For just $95 a month, I am the proud renter of a red porta potty with weekly servicing. This may be better than having to clean my own toilet,” she writes, ever the queen of making what comes work one way or the other. My daughter’s email goes on to say, “I shall need some decorations for my throne, don’t you think?”
Basic functions. They’re important. And my how we take them all for granted. When we flush, it goes down. When I turn the faucet, water happens. When I rise before dawn and flip the switch, darkness goes away….
… Carl Jung said, “The two most sacred places are the temple and the toilet.” Both are necessary. Both cleanse, in whatever order one chooses….though I’m far more convinced that the sacredness, usefulness and clarity of toilets surpasses church or temple!
I’ll round out this whimsy and off-beat reflection with two vignettes: Last year our rowing club was hosting a race
event in New Bedford Harbor. A small set of bleaches provided seating at the edge of the pier and a lone porta potty sat directly behind the staging area. One boy, who looked about eleven or twelve years of age, waited his turn to enter the john. The moment came, he stepped inside and promptly locked the door, or so he thought. The poor lad had no sooner sat down when a strong guest of wind blew the door wide open causing the plastic door to slam loudly against the side of the unit. The noise was so loud and sudden that many in the stands instantly turned around to see what was happening. There sat the boy, totally helpless, frozen, looking straight out in horror at what now became his audience. Almost as quickly as it had happened, everyone seemed to look away to give this poor child some dignity. At the same moment another adult walking nearby instinctively grabbed the flapping door and latched it shut! My friend standing beside the bleaches commented, “The poor kid must be mortified. Thank God it wasn’t me!”
Just last weekend, I was leading a retreat of forty-seven children and staffers at a beautiful rural retreat center called Woolman Hill in Deerfield, MA. We were going over nighttime routines and I explained to the cabin dwellers that if they needed to go during the night, that a staffer would walk them up through the field and to an inside bathroom. One of the staffers commented that there was a perfectly serviceable 100% genuine old fashioned outhouse just outside one of the cabins. It was clean, roomy and even had a flashlight and reading material inside!
“Not once in twenty years has a child ever used one of the two nearby outhouses,” I replied. Indeed, at a retreat last fall I tried to sell the virtues of using the outhouse to one child even in broad daylight. She said, “Where’s the nearest bathroom? I have to go.” I outlined her options, hoofing up to the bathroom in the main building or using “this” one, twenty feet away not far from her cabin.
We walked to check it out. Now the first thing most kids do when they encounter a real honest-to-goodness privy is to look down the hole and hold their nose. Instead, this child first felt the toilet paper hanging nearby, as if with some reassurance of normalcy. The lone window was high, insuring light and privacy. She fiddled with the door latch, thinking, okay, I can safely close and then open this thing myself. While she’s giving it the 360 look-over, I happened to glance at the seat myself thinking, my god, that thing is wide and no doubt built with adults in mind.
My little friend finally notices the seat. I could tell that she was doing the math herself. At barely four feet and 60 pounds she turns to me and says, “Kevin, the hole’s too big. What if I fall in?” Sensing that our exploration was coming to an abrupt end I said, “Don’t worry, if you fall in we have a rope.”
“I’m going up to the house,” she says. “Let’s go.” Like most of us, I thought, she gets to choose her temple and her toilet. Somewhere in the cosmos, Carl Jung must be smiling.