I almost missed the sign as I hurried to get dressed and leave the preparation room: “Please be mindful of cleanliness and leave the room as you found it.”

Of course, I didn’t need to see the sign; I always try to be considerate and to not leave a mess behind me. It was not always so, however. I cringe when I think back a decade to my early years as a mikvah-goer. I am sure I occasionally left rooms without making sure they were clean. Not because I didn’t care, or because I felt entitled to have others clean up after me. I just wasn’t a neat or organized person, and wasn’t very aware of my surroundings. Add to that the distraction of rushing home after immersing, and the nervous mindset of a new bride, and the result was self-absorption. Looking back, I hope I did not make a mess for the mikvah staff to take care of. I hope I didn’t make anyone’s job harder. But I probably did.

When women speak among ourselves about the topic of mikvah, we often share negative experiences: intrusive examination of our bodies, towels plopped on our heads unsolicited in the middle of a bracha, insulting questions, shame and embarrassment. Even if most of our experiences at the mikvah have been positive or blessedly neutral, the horror stories are the ones we swap with friends or air online with indignation. We may appreciate and then quickly forget the balaniyot who were dedicated, nurturing and discreet. We may remember an especially powerful bracha, or a time the mikvah lady was especially sensitive. Yet somehow, we tend to dwell on the exchanges that prompted us to feel defensive, disturbed or ashamed at a moment when we were vulnerable and yearning for dignity, even for transcendence.

Looking at that sign reminding me to clean up, I thought of my younger self: sloppy and harried, grabbing my purse and hurrying off to blow-dry my hair. I hope the mikvah staff judged me favorably. I hope they didn’t look at the messy preparation room and think, “Who does she think she is? How could she just leave her mess for us to clean? How selfish and inconsiderate.” I hope they understood that I was just an imperfect person trying to get my bearings and doing the best that I could.

Some months, I forget that the mikvah attendants are also flawed human beings. I see their shortcomings as conscious choices: willful ignorance, determined dogmatism, premeditated nosiness. I fail to see these women as I see myself, as people striving to do their job within their very human limitations and personalities. I can do better there; I can add some more kindness and patience into the mix.

Of course, I speak up when I feel my boundaries are violated, and I assert my rights as a mikvah user. And mikvah staff members need to be sensitive to the needs of each tovelet. Eden’s educational and sensitivity training for mikvah attendants has gone a long way to help in that realm, and such developments are necessary to effect positive change for all of us. Still, when I remember to view the attendants with compassion and understanding, it eases those interactions. It allows me to hope that, just as I have become more mindful of others over the years, insensitive or uneducated attendants can also change and grow. For now, I can try to educate myself, communicate clearly and accept that all of us are doing the best we can.