Home for me is, and I hope shall be for some time to come, a charming little Dutch colonial in a quaint village many affectionately call “Mayberry”. We love where we live. We can walk to the girls’ elementary school, to our beloved church, to a family-friendly restaurant where you can snack on fresh hot pretzels while you wait for your meal. We know and love our neighbors, and frequently swap favors and share meals together.
Our house itself is cozy. Try as I might, it’s rarely tidy, but rather cluttered with solitary socks, piles of correspondence, and the occasional half-dressed Barbie doll. Our home is - well, homey.
The four of us share one bathroom. For the last few summers my mother-in-law has come for extended stays to care for the girls and escape the Arizona heat. When she’s in town, the people-to-bathrooms ratio becomes 5:1. A nearby house has 7 bathrooms; we would need to be housing a whopping 35 people each summer to maintain the same people-to-bathrooms ratio, or a more modest 28 people during the school year.
Sometimes I worry that it’s not normal to be so acutely aware of bathrooms-to-people ratios. I clearly covet my neighbor’s loo.
Having one bathroom isn’t always comfortable. We often must quickly assess which of us needs the facilities most urgently, and wait our turn. We have precious little privacy, and as the girls get older this will only get more complicated. Not long ago we got an estimate to put a bathroom in the unfinished basement. We confirmed what I suspected: we can’t afford to do it. But even if we managed to save up enough to pay the plumber, I’m not sure I would go through with it. Which is not to say I don’t pine for another toilet. I do. It’s just that this house was built in 1929; for 87 years, families have lived with the constraint of sharing one place to bathe, brush teeth, and relieve themselves.
We aren’t the only house in town with one bathroom, though the older and smaller houses are torn down at an alarming rate and you can be darn sure that the large homes constructed in their wake are generously appointed with master bath suites.
I’ve been praying about this, realizing that my covetousness was becoming a problem. I received a humbling nudge from the Holy Spirit to remember this simple truth: that we have access to clean water and indoor plumbing at all is a profound privilege. At least, I think this was a nudge from the Holy Spirit - I tend to believe that whenever I am moved to remember the poor with compassion, the Spirit has been on the move.
Without casting aspersions on my neighbors, who am I to spend my treasure on a half bath? I reckon I would be stepping over Lazarus every time I crossed the threshold. Instead of comparing faucets and paint chips, I’ve been researching mission organizations that focus on bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.
Home is where we are formed in both virtue and vice. I’m grateful that our solitary bathroom doubles as a workshop for learning patience, courtesy, and generosity.
Katherine Willis Pershey is an associate pastor of the First Congregational Church of Western Springs. She is the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family and Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, which will be published by Herald Press on September 27, 2016.