This year the Southeast UU Summer Institute (SUUSI) was fortunate to find a site for our annual gathering after receiving a rather last-minute call in December from our expected hosts telling us they would not be able to accommodate us. Unfortunately, the campus that squeezed us in had to really squeeze us in … most of us had to stay in the less desirable, non-air conditioned dorms with two shared washrooms, one at each end of the hall.
On our floor, both rooms were labeled “Women” but they both had four toilet stalls, four urinals and six showers. Most of the folks I spoke with were comfortable with having “All Gender” restrooms for the week, with the agreement that everyone would be careful not to show any parts of themselves others did not want to see. But then one man was not interested in hearing any more about our ideas for All Gender washrooms and decided to designate one of them for men. And so it was. It took a few days to figure out which showers actually produced both hot and cold water (there was only one) and to establish a rhythm. We all made do … and, At Least We were At SUUSI (ALWĀS … our acronym for the week).
On the way home I listened to an episode of the TED Radio Hour called “Finite” that explored the finite resources on our planet and how we are coping with this (or not). One segment was about the drought in California. They interviewed a woman who is one of many homeowners whose 400’ well has been dry for over a year and goes to a communal water depot where people can get drinking water, take a shower in portable outdoor showers, and use portable sinks to shave and brush teeth each day. They also interviewed a pistachio farmer who invested millions of dollars to drill his well deeper to access the aquifer 2,000 feet below. They spoke with people in a smaller community who negotiated with the farmers for everyone – homeowners, business owners, and farmers – to decrease their water usage by 25% so all could still have water. But when the pistachio farmer was asked if he thought that might work in their area, he was resistant. He sounded like the man who was not interested in sharing the washroom with all genders. At least he was okay with sharing the water, which was abundantly available and easy to take for granted.
When I was at the Eco-Justice Collaboratory in March 2014, I heard about a congregation that invited people to participate in a two-gallon a week water challenge. One man in our group took up the challenge and said it transformed his relationship to water. Having only two gallons to take care of all his washing, cooking, and drinking needs for a week gave him a new appreciation for what many people around our globe, and now in our country, deal with on a daily basis. I wonder if we will be able to work together in our communities so all can thrive as precious, finite, resources dwindle in the coming decades.