Lessons Learned In A McDonald’s Bathroom

Lessons Learned In A McDonald’s Bathroom

I really don’t want to get trampled to death in a McDonald’s restroom.

That was the thought going through my head late in the evening on December 31st, 1999. I was tenaciously clinging to the door frame of a McDonald’s restroom in Nuremberg, Germany. My friends and I, along with thousands of others, were celebrating the arrival of the new Millennia in an ancient walled-in square in the heart of Nuremberg called the “Hauptmarkt”.

We’d been enjoying the festivities for hours, eating good German food and drinking “Gluhwein”, a spiced wine concoction served warm in a mug. And, as with the consumption of any beverage, if one consumes any substantial amount of Gluhwein one must eventually find a way to allow said Gluhwein to end its time inside oneself.

I had to pee.

Ancient city planners didn’t factor in the need for public restrooms (that design feature wouldn’t become a thought for architects for hundreds of years), so the facilities available in the Hauptmarkt were decidedly sparse. There was, however, a McDonald’s tucked into one of the walls of the square, incongruously sticking out as much as a box of Twinkies would at a Whole Foods. But where there is a McDonald’s there is a restroom, so there I was, along with a few hundred other people trying to gain access to one of the few toilets around.

Gaining access to this restroom was a bit like a full-on rugby scrum. I had managed to inch my way to the door and get my hands on the door frame, but the crowd trying to get in and the throng trying to get out seemed to both be hell-bent on denying me access. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I was truly afraid that I was going to slip and fall and get trampled to death, so I literally hung on for dear life.

I had clung there for only a few moments when I decided that my only course of action was to trust the strangers around me, so I stood as tall as I could and let go. Well, let go with my hands, that is. The crowd pushing in outnumbered the crowd trying to get out, so I managed to gain access to the restroom and then joined the revelers trying to escape a restroom that had long since exceeded its operational capacity for cleanliness.

This memory keeps returning to me as I reflect on 2016. This whole year, largely because of the election, felt like a constant buffeting of two throngs trying to move in opposite directions with many of us caught in the middle.

There’s a term that came into common usage this past year that disturbs me greatly: the term “post-truth”. “Post-truth” describes the practice of selecting the information that reinforces one’s beliefs and rejecting information that does not. It’s a nice synonym, but it disturbs me because it indicates, to me, that we’ve become a people that would rather be comfortable than deal with the truth. “Post-truth” means we’re saying it’s okay to lie.

I can’t accept that position.

The “truth” can be difficult to find, I know, but I believe it’s a fundamental cornerstone of our existence that we place it high regard. We won’t survive if we don’t. We want it to be true that we can live on a diet of tasty cheeseburgers, pizza and ice cream, but the truth is that we cannot. We want to spend as if it is our right to have lavish homes and the latest toys, but the truth is that if we do so we won’t have any resources for our retirement. We want to burn all the oil and coal we desire to have cheap energy to power our lavish homes and our toys, but the truth is, even if they weren’t causing climate change, those energy sources will one day run out. We want to provide every person with a job, a home and health care, but the truth is that funding every social program could bankrupt us as a nation. We push and shove to gain access to something and say disparaging things about others pushing in the other direction, but the truth is that most of us just need to pee.

The truth, to me, seems to be somewhere in the middle.

I have a very simple faith in God. I can point to key moments in my life when I’ve let go and trusted in Him and felt buoyed by a presence I can’t describe. My career path and my wife, especially, came to me when I let go and said “I don’t know, you show me what’s best”.

I have a simple faith in people, too. I flew to Germany late in 1999 knowing full-well that I would be returning home on January 1, 2000. Younger people may not know the importance of that date and how it relates to airplanes, but I can tell you that many of us held our breath that day to see if the world would end. Not because of a comet or mystical Mayan prediction, but because of a computer programming glitch with the name “Y2K” that threatened to wreak havoc on computers that couldn’t figure out what to do with a date greater than 1999. I had decided that winter to trust in Boeing and Airbus engineers that they were not going to allow all their planes to fall out of the sky.

As I look towards 2017 I’m going to lean on my faith in God and my faith in people again. We aren’t going to let planes fall out of the sky. We’ll do our best to not let world financial markets collapse. We’ll still look out for one another. He’s there to help us.

My New Year’s resolutions? Be trustworthy – I will try to always elevate what’s true over what just confirms my beliefs. Be trusting – I will have faith in God and people to do what’s right and what’s best.

Oh, and maybe most importantly, I resolve to not get trampled to death in a McDonald’s restroom. If I must check out of this life early it should at least be at an Arbys.

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