I grew up as an active child with dirty hands and lived to tell about it. We knew no better then.  Germs were only dealt with before some meals, if we were lucky, when we had water.  And a grimy bar of soap.  Years later as an adult and after being, pardon the expression, exposed to information about possible contamination from nasty things on surfaces and in the air, I became far more ‘careful’ and concerned about adequate hygiene.  Much debate continues about how much is just right and how much is too much or even useless.  Would-be experts abound.  I took to trying to watch out some and stay ‘clean’ …not sterile…but at least doing what I could inside and out to avoid illness.  I was in a hazardous place for many years — a high school full of young humans.  Schools are notorious breeding grounds for lots of disease, all the while doing so much noble work in our society.  Kids today are still wonderful and active and still don’t care too much about contagion,  although it’s better than it was…with signs reminding us all to wash our hands, and get our vaccinations, etc.  So over the years I took some ‘heat’ in the form of gentle ribbing, and noticed a rolled eye or two as I would take simple steps to battle the resistant germs all around me.  People there assumed I was a more obsessive-compulsive germaphobe than I actually was.  It never kept me awake nor did I ever make a u-turn to ‘rewash’ my hands after already taking care of them.  I was careful more than ‘mentally ill’ about it, in my opinion, although my hands would get especially dry and cracked in the winter.  I do feel bad for those poor souls who can find no peace, who are tormented endlessly with regard to this and other such obsessions and compulsions.

That said, this poem came to me as what that life may be like.  So bottom line, only autobiographical to a small degree.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness. Being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness, as in Don’t forget to wash your ears—Cleanliness is next to godliness. This phrase was first recorded in a sermon by John Wesley in 1778, but the idea is ancient, found in Babylonian and Hebrew religious tracts.”

I am realizing just how dirty it can be
coming out of my shell
Living in the world
I’ve been out there for a good while now
riding this wave of compulsions
panicking beneath a tsunami of obsessions
Now I am coming up for air
scrubbing hard to get clean
Almost shiny, I imagine,
Watching what’s cast off spiraling down the drain,
itself a contaminated and putrid place
full of lurking hazards.
And don’t get me started on the tainted mysteries of
public restrooms and restaurant kitchens!
Shuddering at the thought and
almost overcome with all of this
That it’s a filthy world
despite the true beauty in it
And lots of pretty promises hanging down like ripe fruit
I will wash before I eat.

It’s dirty all over,
In here
Out there
Up and down
I’m told, or I know for sure,
having experienced
Dust and mud and the waste of humans and animals
and the odor of decay

You can almost hear
invisible microbes
crawling over everything we contact or others touch
and then they get on me and do things I discover
Only too late
to do anything about it
So I try to put them out of my mind
and build some imaginary resistance.

So, desperate and seeking salvation
Or at least prophylaxis
Surfing my way across a grimy internet
to the flashing neon lights of Amazon
Looking for the perfect soap or cleanser
With the rare 5-star rating
and guarantee
To make life spotless and perfectly safe.


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