Lately I have been cleaning public restrooms.
Having spent a lot of time in Asia, where the toilet-going experiences are ripe and raw, I have begun to investigate my relationship with toilets here in the US.
Recently, a woman in front of me in the bathroom line at the movies walked the row of seemingly open stalls, slowly shaking her head and making poo-face at the stalls where there was some visible evidence of the previous user. As if trying to find the toilet stall that could confirm her belief that she was the first user since its cleaning, she decided to wait until a stall, more up to her standards, opened up.
I took the stall with the ripped, wet, toilet seat cover hanging over the lid...which remained empty despite a line of women doing the pee-dance and missing their movies.
I reached down, grabbed the wadded-up piece of paper, flushed the toilet, cleaned up some other paper trash off the floor, got a new toilet seat liner and sat down. I very well may have touched someone else's pee.
While washing my hands I thought about how paranoid we are of each other's excrement in the US. Regardless of the antibacterial soap and the special seat liners, public bathrooms can bring out the inner hypochondriac in all of us, myself included.
While in Nepal, India and Tibet we regularly use pit toilets, forced to see and smell the export of the former squatters. In fact, the toilets at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet are some of the nastiest I've seen...and down below a herd of cows lives off the bounty. And there is rarely toilet paper for wiping -- simply your hand and some old water. You touch your own poop and you wash your hands...and it's fine.
Here in the US, however, we all seem to agree that cleaning up after ourselves or, God forbid, after someone else in the bathroom is someone else's job...and usually it is. But wouldn't it be easier and saner if we just stopped being afraid of the grosser parts of life and gave our stall a quick once-over before and after we left?
So lately, I have been choosing the dirtiest stalls and forcing myself to look at and experience the yuck and the shit of life.
I have been cleaning public restrooms, unasked and unthanked, because It makes me feel less afraid and more connected to the world...how funny is that?
Do you have a story about facing the stink and yuck of life head-on?
Let us hear it!
Kiri Westby was featured in Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.