[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following was originally printed in The Forum newspaper, on April 26, 2014.]
Living Faith: How God’s love showed up in a garbage pail
By Roxane B. Salonen
For nearly 22 hours, I’d been squished into a quasi-fetal position on a bus ride from New York, having traveled through the night with 100 other adults and students on a school-sponsored journey.
We were two hours from home when a spring blizzard stopped us, forcing an evening stay at a hotel in Alexandria, Minn.
Maybe the pause would be good, I reasoned. I could grab a warm bath – an idea that sounded better than heaven itself at that point in time.
After settling into my room, I gathered what I’d need for the luxurious dip. As the water ran, I could almost feel my weary bones and muscles easing up.
My longing for that desperately needed reprieve served to make what happened next seem downright cruel. As my toe hit the water, I shrieked, my body now tense. Either I’d set the faucet wrong or the hotel had no hot water. It was Antarctic cold.
I checked the settings and tried again, but nothing. Now, however, I was committed to the cause. In the name of a warm bath, I’d abandoned most of the other chaperones, who’d gathered in another room to relax and visit. I had to follow through with a shower at the very least.
And so I did, with clenched teeth and regular intervals of popping out of the frigid stream to catch my breath.
“No!” I yelled. Was this really happening?
And then, unexpectedly, I started to cry. It was more like an all-out wail, though necessarily suppressed. My two youngest roommates, student teachers, were visiting on the bed just around the corner from the bathroom. I had to hold it in.
After turning off the water, I squeezed the rest of my tears into a towel while simultaneously dabbing at my shampoo-streaked head.
What I wanted more than anything was a cave to crawl into so I could curl up and bawl myself to sleep. But there was nowhere to hide.
“Was a warm bath really too much to ask, God?” I demanded.
The trip had been amazing, but six days of a sardine-like existence, bus latrines, tight schedules and a record-speed, youth-filled tour had obviously taken a toll. Emotions I had no idea I’d been carrying had burst forward, triggered by that first blast of cold.
And now I was prisoner in a hotel bathroom. If I emerged, I’d be found out. I, the 45-year-old veteran mother, would have to explain my breakdown to my young, unsuspecting roommates.
Get on with it, I told myself, knowing I had no choice.
“Do you need to talk?” said one, noticing my weary face. “Maybe,” I answered weakly. Soon, I was spilling as they mostly just listened. And in no time, I felt myself reviving, feeling remarkably restored.
It had taken so little, it seemed. All that bound-up, bad energy had evaporated like water drops in a hot frying pan with the simple offer of an ear.
It would have been enough, but they weren’t finished.
“I’ll be right back,” one said. “I can’t tell you where I’m going, but I’m on a mission.”
A short while later she returned bearing a small garbage pail. “Here, so you can soak your feet,” she said.
The pail was full of blissfully warm water.
She recounted how she’d gone down to the hot tub, risked the “judging” stares of the high school students gathered there, and filled the pail without explanation – just for me.
Apparently my tear ducts have a backup tank because just when I thought I was emptied out, a few more trickled down. This time, however, they were tears of gratitude.
And in that moment of naked humility, with my feet resting easy in a plastic bucket, I felt all that the gestures had meant.
The gift had been wrapped in the guise of two young women who’d noticed a need and acted without hesitation. It came straight from their beautiful hearts, but also from God’s – a response to a prayer cried out in anguish in a shower stall.
It was as if Jesus was whispering, “I see you there, tired and weary; rest now.”
And in the hotel that night, I learned anew that God’s love can show up almost anywhere, including in the shallow recesses of a little plastic garbage pail.