In December 1966 I was living in Italy and had just moved to the small city of Salerno, about 50 kilometers south of Napoli. I met up with another young American with whom I would be working, and we had just set out to hunt for an apartment when it happened, a sudden attack of traveler’s diarrhea.
It was bad, and I knew I was in trouble. It being Italy (or most anywhere in Europe), there were no public restrooms in sight. We were a couple of blocks from the train station and knew there was one there, so we set off as fast as I could manage. By the time we got there I was more desperate than I have ever been before or since!
I ran into the station, hurried to the restroom, pulled on the stall door, and discovered it was locked. “Who locks the stall door?” I thought. I looked around and answered my own question. Sitting across the room was a man collecting 50 lira (8 cents) to use the toilet.
After accepting my hasty payment, the man gave me a coin to drop into the door, which I did and was rewarded with the most beautiful sound I have ever heard, the door unlocking. I pushed it open, ran into the stall, but to my surprise, there was no toilet! My first thought was, “Oh, no! What am I going to do now?”
I looked a little closer and noticed that where the toilet should have been there were three things. Two footpads and a ten-inch hole in the floor, which I later learned was called the bomb sight. I figured out what was going on and realized that I was expected to stand on the footpads, pull down my pants, and aim for the hole.
I had a major problem. There was no way, in my current condition, that I could hit the hole without filling my pants. What was I supposed to do? I quickly realized that the only way I could possibly save myself was to take off my pants. I did and put the bomb site to good use, but my adventure was not over, nope not even close.
The bomb sight, you see, started to flood. Don’t even try to visualize my predicament by this time, but you can easily imagine I wanted nothing more than to put my pants back on and get out of there, but curses, I was foiled again. No toilet paper! My chances for survival appeared to be rapidly diminishing. For one brief moment, I felt a flicker of hope and called out asking if someone, anyone would toss me a roll over the wall, but to no avail. The flood, creeping higher and higher, did however quickly inspire my creativity and I put the brochures in my coat pocket to good use. Not exactly “Charmin soft,” but good enough to get me out of there with only my wounded pride and still aching belly.
Around the world in 2020 we have all been challenged by disastrous moments of small and massive proportions. As we enter 2021 it is our prayer that we will reach out and help each other through the big and little challenging moments of life and always be willing to toss a roll over the wall when we hear a cry for help.
Happy Failing Forward,
Calvert and Anne
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