I love wearing white. When I lived in the States and had an executive-type job I often wore white. The conflict is that I’m like Pigpen – I attract dirt, so all my white shirts soon had embarrassing stains on them: spots of turmeric or hot sauce that I couldn’t scrub out. Fortunately, there were plenty of good second hand clothes stores where I lived, so I treated myself at that time to a hearty selection of two dollar white tops.
Then I moved to a mountain village in Mexico where I’m soon to complete twelve years. Yesterday I was trying to recall what it was I knew and envisioned when I decided it was the place where I could and would to live in accordance with my values. The first image that came to mind were the clothes drying on the flat roofs of the houses I viewed from the roof of the house where I was staying. I also vaguely remembered some ideas about living slower with less technology. But clothes drying on the line was concrete: Here I could wash my clothes by hand and hang them outside to dry. “But,” I argued with myself, “I could have created a life in which I hand-washed my clothes in the States as well. What is special about doing it here?” Somehow being part of a place where this is how life is normally lived (versus an anomoly) is important to me. It gives me a sense of belonging; that although a foreigner and stranger to this place and culture, I fit here. We fit together
I still love washing my clothes by hand and hanging them on the line. It remains a part of my lifestyle, a value, and a pleasure. But here’s the irony: I’m not very good at it. And even though I’m resigned to the belief that I’m not good (tidy) enough for white and so rarely dress in it, avoidance has not made me immune to accruing stains when I do wear it.
I try to get the spots out. I soak them and blot them, use bar soaps, dishwashing soaps, acetone, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, baking soda and more. I’ve made my own washing soda and even mashed specific leaves that the elders once used to brighten and whiten fabric. I make a project out of the removal of stains, although I don’t like spending so much time at activities I’m historically not successful at. I follow instructions and feel industrious as I scrub, rub, rinse and wring in my front yard. I feel proud as I climb with the damp clothes up to my roof, shallow bucket resting on my hip. I choose the arrangement and location for each article of clothing, pinching one shoulder to the line and place a colorful pin. I do the same with the other shoulder. I smooth the fabric to discourage wrinkles as it dries. Then I spot it: The stain is still there. Further inspection reveals that all the stains I so diligently dealt have remained. They beat me. Like the insect kingdom, I am nothing compared to them. Crestfallen and frustrated I wonder, “Why even try? I’m a failure at clothes washing; the thing I love and am not good at."
And that’s with white clothes.
Today even worse news: I have a black top, only one. Sometimes black feels good to wear: I feel strong, invisible, untouchable in it. Citified and tough. This morning I decided to wear it. As I was running out the door to catch the combi (the local public transporation,) my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of something not expected: a row of little white spots on the chest, next to the buttons. Had I dribbled bleach on myself unknowingly? I threw off the top, spit on the white dots and rubbed. Would they darken with the moisture and dissipate with the friction? No time to wait and see or I’d miss my ride. I quickly ran upstairs, slipped a different shirt over my head and left.
When I returned several hours later I couragously approached what I’d left strewn on the bannister. I rinsed the area with water and rubbed gently. It seemed like it looked better now. Maybe I was off the hook this time and had been permitted a simple solution. I went outside and commenced with the pinning of the fabric to the line. Then I saw it: the stain was still there. And another one below it, rendering the fabric there slightly stiff and gray. Careful inspection revealed another dried and discolored area on the neck seam. I hung my head. “There’s no escaping stains,” I thought. Even with black cloth they are unavoidable.
The metaphor didn’t escape me either:
There is light. There is darkness. And there is no avoiding the messiness and work of life.
Robin Rainbow Gate
I help people midlife and beyond to find their inner power, health and well being through slow living
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