an angel in the loo


When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail himself of an angel but of parents, or the pastor, or of our neighbor.

~ Martin Luther

I could write seventeen more posts about the trip to my dad’s – about Brooke and the dogs. About sadness and about feeling overwhelmed. About my tremendous pride in Katie and about my mixed feelings about asking so much of her. About the incredible swirl of love, strength, grace and humor that is my ninety year-old Grandma. About the profound relief of being in my father’s house. About the bittersweet release of allowing myself to feel small.

But I dare say I might come close to drowning in any one of them. So, in the interest of self-preservation, I’ve decided instead to share a story from our ride down to New York.

On Saturday afternoon, we met my mom and her husband for lunch at a restaurant near their home in Southern Connecticut. We arrived before they did and found the restaurant far more crowded than we would have liked.

As they set up our table, I took the girls to the ladies room. Brooke tensed up as we walked through the crowded dining room. She asked for her iPod, which I assured her she would get just as soon as we got back to the table.

The restaurant’s tile floors did nothing to dull the clang and clatter of plates and silverware, nor the chirping and chattering of diners enjoying one another’s company. The open kitchen only added to the level of chaos in the room.

By the time we got into the bathroom, Brooke was on high alert.

The three of us crowded into a stall together. As Katie relieved herself, Brooke’s hands shot up to her ears. “No flushing!” she yelled. She said it again and again. “No flushing! It won’t flush!”

I assured her that the toilet would not flush until we were ready for it to. I pointed to the manual flusher, explaining that this was not a toilet that ‘knew how to flush itself’. Katie promised her that she could leave the stall when we were all done and that she would stay behind to flush.

“No flushing,” Brooke said again and again as she took her turn on the toilet. She balanced on the edge of the seat, attempting to bury her ears in her arms. “It won’t flush,” she repeated.

As I took my turn, Brooke cowered in the corner as far as she could get from the toilet, her hands planted firmly over her ears. “It won’t flush,” she said for the twentieth odd time. “Katie will flush it LATER.”

As I was finishing up, I heard a voice from behind Brooke. It was coming from the other side of the wall dividing the stalls. “Excuse me,” said the voice, “I was about to flush. Would you like me to wait?”

I could have sworn it was the voice of an angel.

I answered that I’d really appreciate it if she could wait just a moment until I could scoot Brooke out of the stall. Standing where she was, she would have been terrified had another toilet flushed from right behind her head. I hadn’t even thought of it.

Once we were a safe distance from the stall, I called out to Katie and the woman and both toilets flushed. As we made our way to the sinks I stammered, “Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”

We spoke to each other in the mirror as we washed our hands. She looked to be in her late fifties. Her eyes were warm and kind. She explained that when her daughter was four, she’d gotten locked in a bathroom stall and was subsequently terrified of public restrooms. She may have gotten it from a different angle, but she got it. That was all that mattered.

It was all I could do not to hug her as we bid each other a good day and went our separate ways.

Once in a while, we cross paths with exactly the right person at exactly the right moment. Someone who extends a hand, or a smile, or an offer to wait to flush a damn toilet.Β I’ve come to see those people as everyday angels. And the more I’ve started to look, the more I’ve noticed that they are everywhere I turn.

Even in the bathroom.

24 thoughts on “an angel in the loo

  1. I have been reading you for awhile, but haven’t commented yet – but I had to say something about this one. πŸ™‚ It brought tears to my eyes. My son has autism and I can’t tell you how many times he has “freaked-out” in a public restroom because of automatic flushers or someone flushing unexpectedly. How sweet and kind of that woman (angel!) to ask you if you’d like her to wait. What an incredible blessing. Something that seems so small to others – but is so HUGE in our world.

  2. That toilet flushing thing is so huge in our community. I love that woman.

    You have angels everywhere. Remember the one at Cracker Barrel?

    The smell the good on you, sister. They can’t help but seek you out.

    • this is perfect .. and heartwrenching ..

      ‘where are the angels? where is their song? it is everywhere. yes, they are everywhere.’

      thank you for sharing this incredible song and story.

  3. Sometimes it’s the little (HUGE) things.

    RE: self-flushing toilets – keep post-its in your purse. Slap one on there and it won’t flush. LIFE SAVER around here.

    Angels before you.
    Angels behind you.
    Angels all around.

  4. Wish I’d known that post-it trick years ago! I remember when the ato-flush toilets were first put in at rest stops along I-95. Was on a road trip w/friends and we all about jumped out of our skins when the stupid things started flushing themselves! I can only imagine how it is for poor Brooke. God bless that woman for waiting.

  5. How absolutely wonderful to run across someone who was paying attention to someone other than themselves!!

    Pixie is so smart-Post it notes! That will totally help the Roc, now if only I could figure out a way to calm him in the airport bathrooms–that’s a tricky one.

  6. Let it shine on it’s only the light of the world…

    There is a song by Chris Ledoux that I really like I will put the chorus first — since that is what really rang true to me as I read this with tears in my eyes. I think I may just have a new verse I could add to this song now…

    There’s a small light in the dark night human kindness deep inside us
    If you see it in somebody’s eyes there’s no reason to be so surprised
    Let it shine on it’s only the light of the world

    Full Lyrics:
    In a lonely all night diner on a rainy city street
    A girl eats at the counter with a suitcase at her feet
    And the waitress looks her over and she knows that she can’t pay
    So when the girl slips out the door she looks the other way
    There’s a small light in the dark night human kindness deep inside us
    If you see it in somebody’s eyes there’s no reason to be so surprised
    Let it shine on it’s only the light of the world

    In an empty Greyhound station an old man stands alone
    He counts out all his money to buy a ticket home
    And the agent says he’s got enough and puts the money in the drawer
    Then he reaches in his pocket and puts in a dollar more
    There’s a small light…
    [ guitar ]
    On a dark deserted highway a boy holds out his thumb
    Two headlights they light up his face as he turns his collar up
    And the trucker he goes right on by as the snow starts comin’ down
    But then five miles on down the road he stops and turns around
    Let it shine on let it shine on let it shine on
    There’s a small light…
    There’s a small light…
    [ fiddle ]

    God Bless and Thank you so much for sharing this story…

    • oh, joe – be still my heart. anyone who quotes chris ledoux to me is a friend for life.

      you a garth fan? if so, hum along with me …. ‘a worn out tape of chris ledoux, lonely women and bad booze seem to be the only friends i’ve left at all.’

      chris left this world to soon.

      thank you for the reminder of his wonderful words!

  7. Oh, Jess. I had a similar experience when Nigel was five. I was so grateful for this woman who just looked at me with kindness and said, “I understand,” when Nigel screamed and wailed in the public restroom and I told her that he had autism. I almost started crying with appreciation when she said that. These angels help us more than they know.

  8. So glad I’m not alone. While teaching my daughter the fine art of placing the paper liner sooooooo carefully (think buttoning times ten) only to have it flushed away by a NOISY auto-flusher! Not once, but 3 times at which point she yells, I HATE IT over and over. I place it for her (and will forever have post-its with me from now on thank you) and finish up only to go out to the sink and have someone push the NOISY auto-hand-dryer!! She jumped but managed to compose herself and keep it together but I walked out in tears. Some days are harder than others but the angels are there when you really need them.

  9. Happy New Year! Keep writing, I love your blog. Sounds like Brooke is doing great, and maybe again in the future she and Fin will cross paths!! Tell Luau I say hi…..

  10. God Bless That Woman!! I don’t know how many times I’ve been trying to reassure Jack about the flush when someone else flushes right beside us! It’s why I love family restrooms for one family at a time.

  11. Like so many others here, the first part of that story is all mine too.

    My beautiful gentle dalai lama boy, driven to extreme panic in a ‘normal’ situation. Australia doesn’t have many auto flush toilets yet, but we have lots of very loud hand dryers. Same same, in so many ways.

    I wonder some days if he will learn to have all his fine motor needs met with his elbows, his hands fly to his ears so often.

    I love that woman. From the other side of the world, I love her. And I hope that she went out and told her dining companions and all of her family and friends.

    I hope they, as we, will start saying ‘I never thought about it like that before… but now, I know.’

    Thanks, Jess.


  12. “wherever there is a human being there is a chance for kindness” – Seneca. Angels are indeed everywhere. We all have the chance to be angels, we never know how our small gesture might make the world of difference to another. You never know in what way you might touch the heart of another.

  13. WOW. This is a big week for us. This weekend my daughter is being tested. She may fall on the autism scale. She has always freaked about public potties. To the point of developing an “iron bladder” and being able to hold it longer than what is probably healthy! She even got to where she wouldn’t drink so she wouldn’t have to go… Only at age 8 did she start going into them without me. This has really opened my eyes. And the post it notes. How freeing! Her younger sister does the same thing. I will start carying them with me!

  14. This is a wonderful story. I had to laugh all the way through because I remember something similar, but ended differently. Jonathan was also not wanting flushing and I promised him I wouldn’t flush until he was by the door. What I didn’t think about was that I couldn’t control the flushing on either side of us. Despite myself I had to laugh.

    He was always right. I thought I could control the circumstances around us, but I couldn’t and he knew it. Same with dogs. I’d promise the families would put the dogs away, but they always got out.

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