I just threw a load of white cotton panties and tee-shirts into the washing machine. They made me think about what Teacher Extraordinaire Jean Hoard taught me.One day Jean said to a kindergartner, “Honey, let Mrs. Hoard help you. You’ve got your tee-shirt on inside-out.”
He said, “That’s the way Mommy wants it.”
Certain the little one was confused, Jean pulled the shirt off over his head, turned it right-side out, and saw mustard smeared all over it.“I don’t got no clean clothes,” he told her, “So Mommy turned my tee-shirt inside-out. Just like my underpants. I been wearing them all week.”
“Why doesn’t your mommy wash them?” asked Jean.
“We don’t got no washer.”
“What about the laundromat?”
“We don’t got no car, and she’d have to walk and carry the basket, and bad drug people hang out between our house and the laundromat. She’s scared to go.”“I see,” said Jean.
“We got to wait until somebody who gots a car can take us.”
When you’re poor, washing clothes is an ordeal. If you’ve got a washer, does it actually work? Is your electricity turned on? Your water? Your gas to the hot water heater? Do you have a dryer? Or a clothes line, and if so, will the weather cooperate? Got detergent? Is a laundromat close enough to walk to, one basket at a time? Will your toddler run into the street while you carry the basket? Are you able-bodied enough so that you can walk? Is public transit feasible? Do you have access to private transportation? Money to pay for it? To run the machines? Is walking down the street safe? Is the laundromat safe? Are your clothes wrinkle-free, and if not, do you have an iron, ironing board, starch, and the physical ability, time, energy, know-how, and skill to iron them?I never think about those things when I toss in a load of laundry. I take clean clothes for granted. For Pete’s sake, I can afford wrinkle-free clothes and fabric softener.
People who lack basic clothing suffer. They suffer. They shiver and sicken when cold and wet and muddy. And dirty clothing spreads disease. Honest.
The emotional tolls are high, too: children skip school because not having enough clothes is humiliating. Other kids make you the butt of jokes: Aren’t you wearing the same shirt for the third day in a row? I knew you were coming because I could smell you.
We can help. We can go through our closets and donate the GOOD clothes we don’t wear. (Throw away stained, torn, or tacky clothes. Nobody wants trash.) Remember the 80/20 rule: We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. The rest could clothe the naked. Didn’t Jesus say to do that?
We could clothe the naked AND enjoy clean closets.Time for my whites to go in the dryer. I’ll fold them with new eyes.
So today, this is my prayer:
Thank you, God, for clean underpants. Bless the poor who don’t have any. Move our hearts to donate good, serviceable clothing to charity and to buy new underpants to donate, too. And maybe to throw in a few dollars more. To clothe the naked like you said. And to then appreciate our clean, organized closets.This week when I see someone whose clothes are dirty and who smells bad, remind me, Lord, how hard life is for the poor. And that while I have two dozen pair of clean underpants in my drawer, they may be wearing their underpants inside out because one pair is all they've got.