Not many months ago, on a missions base in a Nordic nation (which shall remain nameless, except to say that its name begins with the letter ‘N’ and always wins the most medals at the Winter Olympics), my hidden hypocrisy came home to roost. I had a crisis in bed.
Donna and I had just arrived to direct a Renewal Camp, and were guests in a comfy little flat; I was already in bed, jet-laggedly trying to read a magazine, and barely able to stay awake. Donna was in the tiny bathroom, preparing to retire for the night.
Suddenly I heard an un-muffled scream from Donna. The flushing mechanism for the 'BC' (‘Bathroom Commode’ as our friend Dan Sneed and his Baptist friends like to call it), was driven by a kind of pulverizing, motorized blender that is intended to propel its 'cargo' at the speed of light through pipes to wherever that sort of cargo goes. But not this time!
A pipe fitting had burst. Try to imagine the scene: the floor flooded with a noxious cocktail, the disgusting odor permeating the whole apartment. Showing my true colors, I pulled the blanket over my head and said to myself, "This is not happening and I am not here." Donna appealed to me for help. I couldn't move. I was in agony and in the valley of decision, weakly suggesting that she get someone to call someone. I went deeper under the covers. I willed myself to be somewhere else. My will was not that powerful.
After a phone call, help came, it was one of the staff. He immediately started to gag and had to leave. A younger staff guy, three weeks off his honeymoon, arrived to render assistance, and temporarily patched up the pipe. Donna started mopping. "I am a coward, I am a coward," I repeated over and over. I go a little deeper under the covers and try to sleep. My acute sense of discernment tells me that Donna is not impressed.
Donna then waded back into the quagmire of effluence, wearing a pair of Crocs, and swabbed things up, using about 500 rolls of paper towel and a mop. She turned on the tap in the shower to rinse the mop and 'thar she blows' again; every drop of everything, goes through that 'blender,' even the shower water. So once more she got sprayed.
But the coward is feigning sleep. He’s been praying that a special 'BC' angel will appear with a giant vacuum cleaner, offering comfort and cleanup for Donna. The stink is beyond description. I scrunch down, deeper still beneath the flimsy protection offered by the blanket.
When all that could be done was done, Donna comes to bed mumbling that it is all fixed—someone had come by and apologetically mended the leak. There is a chill in the bed. I burble a weak, cowardly apology and try to go to sleep. Not likely, though my exhausted darling immediately drops off. It's 1:30am and I’m in for a long night.
By 4am I am still jet-laggingly and bad-conscience-ly wide awake, and so I sneak out of bed. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Bathroom looks OK, but the smell, well, it still defies description. Donna, I learned later, had sprayed everything with Eternity perfume and it produced an interesting bouquet of fragrances. But I press on with my early ablutions, thinking that maybe I can escape to another country, far away.
I confidently flush. Bad decision. Thar she blows — again. No paper towels left so I use toilet paper, rolls and rolls and rolls of it. I more or less get things mopped up, patch the pipe again, and dare to take a shower. The pipe holds. I complete my morning routine and get out of there. The stench is worse than you can imagine.
I decide not to run away, so I make coffee and sit down to wait for Judgment Day. It comes. I weakly stammer, "Like some coffee, dear?" Then some more humbling and asking for forgiveness, but the air is still pretty cool, and I don't mean the Celsius kind of cool. We're not ready to laugh about things yet . . . maybe in about 50 years.
That morning as we're sitting in a meeting, I become aware of the reek of the Eternity cocktail again. I sniff our clothes. Nothing there. Then I notice Donna is wearing her 'wading' Crocs which she had simply rinsed off. Not good enough.
Later we move all our belongings to another room in another building. It is far enough away. I think. The old apartment is temporarily condemned, and a new BC will be installed. I hope it is a regular one where just water and gravity take care of things.
Finally, Donna laughs. Long and loud. Everybody else laughs too. I wrote and told the story to my kids and they lol-ed their heads off.
But not me; not the coward, not the exhorter of husbands. I was still re-living the Night of Horrors.
So husbands, remember what the bible says to us: “Love Your Wives ". . . and be willing to lay down your life for them. Surely, a real man would be willing to help his wife in such a disaster as I have described. But even though I failed on that one, she still loves me.
The above article (slightly edited), was first published in the November 2008.