How is it I have character-epiphanies in and around bathrooms?
My Quality Control character stepped up when a lock in a wheelchair-accessible stall was mounted in a stupid place [more here].
My Judge character showed up in a different bathroom setting. This time I wasn’t alone.
I was in an office building that had a bathroom for its tenants and guests. It was accessible only with a key and contained a toilet, sink and some shelves; no stalls. Once you went in, you manually locked the door with a sliding door lock, preventing anyone else with a key from coming in.
Needing to go to the bathroom, I got a key, went to the hallway, and tried to enter the bathroom. The knob turned but the door wouldn’t budge. I tapped lightly and heard a woman’s voice from within respond, “occupied!”
I stepped back a couple of steps to avoid hovering. As I retreated, I heard the sound of another voice; a man’s voice. “Huh?” a voice in my head sputtered.
I waited. I attempted patience. I shifted weight. Left. Right. Butt squeeze as the pressure built. Time would not surrender to my demand to move faster.
The voices within the bathroom continued. Pleasant sounds; not rushed; good-natured; content.
I waited more. Considerably more. I walked down the hall, as if leaving, but waited there, keeping an eye on things. I attempted more patience. Did more butt squeezing. Nature was leaning on my bladder. Hard.
I walked back. Voices continued behind the door; still unrushed.
I could feel my Judge character rousing. She was up. She emerged from the wings, stepped onto the stage, up to the bathroom door and knocked. Crisply. Firmly. Loudly.
“Really,” she thought, “how inconsiderate to be dawdling away in there, the two of them, giving no thought to others out here needing to use the loo.”
From behind the door came muffled sounds—laughter?—and movement.
“Occupied!” came the voice again.
“What are they doing in there?” the Judge angrily grumbled under her breath. The possibility that they were enjoying a mid-day rendezvous crossed her mind, ratcheting up the righteousness. “That just isn’t right.”
She stepped away from the door but kept staring at it, her face grimly set in an expression of disapproval, her body tense, her breath shallow.
At this point “I” was long gone; my “Judge” was in charge. No space between the two of us. Any actions that were about to happen were going to be reactions by the Judge.
The sounds within changed: the toilet flushed; water ran in the sink; a towel was pulled from the dispenser. And the door lock was slid aside.
The Judge, all puffed up like a turkey, was prepared to pass judgment. The door opened. She saw a hand near the top, drawing the door inward. As the door drew wider, there, in full view, was a woman in a wheelchair, and her male companion pushing from behind.
It was instantaneous, the deflating of the Judge’s righteous disapproval.
In that moment, when she realized there was a “different story” than the one she had been telling herself, all of her anger and upset left. It was an amazingly fast and complete pivot.
The Judge retreated from the stage.
“I” was left to face the couple departing the bathroom.
I stepped out-of-the-way and nodded as they passed, positive my face reflected the redness of my embarrassment.
“Really?” a shaming character in my head chimed in. “The idea someone was in there with a wheelchair wasn’t something you could even imagine?”
“No,” I’m embarrassed to admit. “It wasn’t.”
And…that’s ok. The instantaneousness of the shift was a shock. The insight I had was worth the embarrassment. The lesson was…priceless.
My Judge shows up plenty often, ready to pronounce judgment. I know she’ll be back.
But now I have a window—even if it’s a crack—through which to consider that the Judge’s decision could be wrong; because the story she’s heard could be missing a critical detail. A detail that fundamentally changes things; changes the verdict. I know that’s a possibility, because I watched it happen.
And through that window—in that space—I stand a better chance of realizing that the Judge—that “all-powerful” judge—is just a character.
Postscript: months after this happened, I had another realization. I’ve always had two working legs. While I’m aware of wheelchair signs in parking lots and bathrooms and other public places, the idea of using a wheelchair is only an intellectual “knowing.” It isn’t something I’ve ever dealt with personally. I’m “mobility privileged,” which may have contributed to my “blindness” regarding the possibility of a wheelchair being in the bathroom. Or maybe—my “think of others compassionate” character—was taking a nap backstage.