Although it was just the sleeping baby and I in the house I wasn’t sure I heard the knock on the door. I wasn’t expecting any guests. Soon the older children and my husband would be coming home for lunch but they would just knock and enter. Should I stop cutting the salad to check out if anyone was indeed there? As I was debating I heard the knock again, this time a drop more assertive. Opening the door I found a young soldier with a sheepish smile on his face. He asked if he could use our bathroom and I let him into the house.
He was in the bathroom a long time and was full of thanks when he left. It was not his gratitude that impressed me, though. Rather it was the tracks of mud he left on my once clean floor. I was still grumbling about the mess when my husband came home.
“You know,” my husband gently rebuked me. “He is helping to protect you and you did a huge kindness for him.”
I had to agree with his observation and resolved then and there to be more tolerant if anyone ever again came to the door to use our toilet. Many times through the years I have wondered what would happen if I tried doing what the soldier had done. More than once I had been doing errands in Jerusalem and become desperate for a bathroom. It is amazing how many stores do not have any facilities. As I was turned down by shop after shop I would remind myself to judge favorably and remember my father’s store.
That store was located in the small downtown of Wichita, Kansas. To get to the lavatory one needed to go through the dusty backroom, up a rickety flight of stairs, past some storage boxes, and squeeze into the square meter closet that held a rusty toilet and one bare light bulb. Outside the door was a sink that had only cold water. My father deemed it prudent to tell costumers that he did not have a bathroom rather than have them risk injury using his.
Through the years the public restroom situation in Israel has greatly improved and I never did try knocking on someone’s door as the soldier had done to mine. Now I know where most of the clean bathrooms are. Last week, though, shortly before I needed to board my bus home to Shilo I went to one of the better facilities near the main bus station. To my disappointment the women’s bathroom was being cleaned and was closed for use. There was a middle-aged man standing by the door and he noticed my distress.
“You can use the men’s bathroom,” he told me.
I just looked at him incredulously. Maybe perverts go into the wrong bathroom but not me.
“Go in,” he insisted. “My wife’s in there and I’m standing guard.”
I still hesitated. I did not want to board the bus without using a bathroom but to go into the men’s bathroom…
Two teenagers approached and he told them the same thing. Less wary than me they entered the men’s bathroom without hesitation. So I followed them. When I came out the man was still there, this time with his wife, waiting to finish his mission of standing guard.
Thanking him I marveled how a perfect stranger was doing such a huge act of kindness. Maybe, though, maybe he wasn’t a perfect stranger. Maybe he was the soldier with the muddy boots, grown up and married, passing on a kindness to others.