I looked down, noticed that there was no toilet paper in my stall, and I certainly wasn't going to ask her if she could spare a square and further mortify us both. So I opened my stall and bolted out of the restroom and Panera entirely, the faucet still running from her attempts at a bath, and her still muttering to herself in the other stall.
I was initially annoyed. I really had to pee. Like, sat there for 2 hours drinking free refill after free refill of iced green tea had to pee. And I really hadn't intended to walk practically into a half-nude, floppy-breasted, odiforously ripe homeless woman in the bathroom. It's a bit of a shock, just so you know if you've never experienced it yourself. I thought to myself, "she could have at least found a place that only had a single stall toilet so she could have locked the door."
But as I walked home, I started to wonder. What is her story? What led her to that moment and that utter indignity of being caught trying to clean herself in a restaurant bathroom? Surely it will impact her more deeply and far longer than it will me. I started to feel ashamed that I'd said nothing to her, didn't tell her not to be embarrassed, didn't try to ease her own sense of shame at the situation, because I was too shocked to find words--or to even know what to say. How I wish I'd said something, anything to let her know that I wasn't judging her. But? For a few seconds, as it was happening, I think I kind of did judge her. And that's the most shameful thing of all for me.
I find myself now wondering how to prepare Ethan to deal with the diversity of the human experience that he will surely face as he grows up. There is nothing in the parenting books about "how to teach your child to react to a naked homeless lady in a restaurant bathroom." So you kind of have to go it alone in figuring it out, know what I mean? I want to teach him to have compassion and to show compassion for people who are less fortunate than him. But how to do that when my own first reaction to this situation wasn't one of compassion? I wish I could go back now, take a few breaths and find my voice to tell her that it's okay, and that I'm sorry that I caused her such embarrassment. Amidst all of the lessons I try to teach Ethan, it is a wake-up call to realize that I am still learning, too.