I stand there stunned. The squeaky door behind me is slowly pulled shut by a spring that has seen better days, and I am alone in this place. I’m having second thoughts about how much I even need to be here… I have to push the door closed the rest of the way to lock it. I do so reluctantly.
The floor is littered with paper of all sizes, puddles and moisture run together seeking the drain that seems too high to do it’s job, and the smell is almost more than I can take. But I need to be here, there’s no escaping it.
I am in the men’s restroom at the 7-11.
I’m grateful that I’m not the one who has to clean up this mess, and that thought leads to a memory of a time early on in my marriage. I made a deal that if LeeAnn would change all of our kids dirty diapers, I would clean the bathroom. A deal she seemed happy to accept. I thought I had made a great deal, and LeeAnn must really hate cleaning the bathroom.
It’s just remarkable to me how emotionally difficult it is for me to clean a restroom – even for the people that I know and love most in my life. I can hardly imagine what it’s like to clean a public restroom. I do know this, every time I see the cleaning lady in the restroom at work, I thank her. From the bottom of my heart I thank her. I am so glad I don’t have to do that… and the work restroom never even comes close to looking like the one I am in now.
I finish in the restroom as quickly as possible, opting to skip the blow drier for my hands. It allows me to make my escape that much sooner. I’m tempted to just walk back out to my car and leave, but I figure telling someone is the right thing to do. I look for a clerk as I walk out wiping my hands on the back of my pants. I meet Amy filling up the soft drink cup dispensers.
I try to break it to her as gently as I can. Mustering all the charm and charisma I can I say “Did you know someone has let a wild animal run around in your men’s room?”. “Again?!!” she replies with a good-natured smile. We both laugh.
As I pour myself a drink from the fountain, I mention to her it might be better to wait for the next shift to come on before venturing in there, after all I don’t want to seem like I’m telling her what to do. She points to Brittney behind the cash register and said “she is the next shift, I’ve only got five minutes left”.
I walk over to Britney to pay for my beverage and Amy follows, She tells her that animals have been in the mens room again, and we talk and joke about how it’s not fun to have to clean that. Amy mentions it will be the 9th time on her shift that its been cleaned, a six hour shift. I crack a joke apologizing for my half of the human race and our propensity to be less than tidy. It’s a fun little conversation…
I notice there is no complaining about the task to be done for the 10th time in six hours. They realize it’s a part of their job. In fact, they apologize over and over that I had to see it that way. I’m still feeling sorry that someone has left that mess for them to clean up, but they are taking the task in stride.
Then an amazing thing happens. Britney looks over at Amy and says “If you clean it before you go, I’ll do your mopping”. The tone of her voice, and the sincerity of her request take me aback… she might hate cleaning that room as much as I do.
My voice echos from the past, “If you change this diaper, I’ll clean the bathroom for the rest of the month” I beg of my wife…
And just like my wife did, Amy has compassion. She’s already off work, but agrees to clean that horrid room. I see it’s not the trade that’s driving the decision for her, she’s doing it because she’s Britney’s friend.
I drive away thinking about my wife. Seeing something that happened 23 years ago in a whole new way. LeeAnn didn’t want to change that diaper either. She did it for me, her friend.
Can I just take a minute to plead for the case of the clerks, the janitors, the baggers in our world? These people are all around us, doing jobs that we wouldn’t want to do, and getting paid not very much to do them. I’m pretty sure nobody has ever written a grade school paper about wanting to grow up to be a 7-11 clerk.
But these are great people. They deserve a smile. So often they are ancillary to our existence and it’s easy to ignore them, or worse, heap our frustration with our world upon them.
I encourage you to take 15 seconds and see if you can help them smile and feel appreciated for the jobs they do, for the people that they are.