Monday, July 7, 2014

Toilet Paper: An Agent of Peace

Entertainment Weekly, 03.21.13

Modern America is fraught with division. Freedom to be ourselves begats freedom to dissent, and in every imaginable arena, differing groups are at odds: Democrats and Republicans, rich and impoverished, Delena fans and Stelena fans (as if there's any doubt) and the list goes on.

But during the Independence Day festivities this weekend, I experienced a profound reminder that underneath it all, we are all the same.

On Saturday, Mommy and I took my youngest three children to Penn’s Landing to watch the evening fireworks display across the river at the Camden Waterfront. Micah found a friend and only returned to our blanket for food, but Jonan and Braylee stayed nearby, playing and being adorable as could be. As nightfall descended, I took them to the bathroom trailer one last time, causing Jonan to observe, “But I’m a man not a woman. I don’t want to go into the Women’s Room!” That debate was silenced only by the pressing need to use whatever facilities were closest. They handled their business, and I stepped out to wash their hands, letting someone else use the stall we vacated.

When it was my turn to go--the logistics of which would impress any contortionist--I used a different stall, one which was fresh out of toilet paper. As I usually travel with a TP roll of my own (because my allergies render those little tissue packets a useless joke), this was no big deal to me. I exited the stall, apprising the next woman of the situation and offering her some of my toilet paper. With a laugh and gratitude, she accepted, and I prepared to return to our viewing spot.

But as I looked out at the long line of waiting ladies, I realized any one of them might wind up in the TP-free stall. And I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone. So with my kids in tow, I approached each lady with my almost-full roll in hand and said something like this: "Hi! I’m not trying to be weird, but some of those stalls are out of TP. Would you like some of mine?"

And in every case, the reaction was the same.

Their brief incredulity melted into amusement and relief as they took the TP, calling me an angel, a life-saver, a pretty smart cookie. As I moved through the line, women anticipating my approach already had their hands out, thankfulness on full display. A few refused my offer, producing tissues or baby wipes from their own bags, but never with less than “But thanks anyway.” Jonan and Braylee were bored out of their gourds, but Mommy had an epiphany as she passed the TP. 

Here’s what I noticed.

These women were tall and short, thick and thin, young and older. Some were barely dressed; others in full Islamic garb. Dark skinned and pale; long blonde hair and short, spiky locs. Ordinarily some of them might not have spoken to me, believing we had nothing in common and no reason to interact. But in those moments, all that mattered was an undeniably basic human need. I departed their company feeling grand and useful, touched by their wide, genuine smiles of appreciation.

And the fireworks were nice too.

In this nation, we will disagree. We will argue and dissent, sometimes to the point of polarization. But through the rhetoric and rancor, I hope we remember what we have in common. I hope we realize kindness is always the right answer, and a roll of toilet paper can be a powerful instrument of unity and peace.

Oh, and that Jonan is a man and doesn't belong in the Women's Room.

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