The Agony and the Ecstasy of Personal Hygiene

To paraphrase Martin Luther King:
“Clean at last, clean at last! Thank gods almighty, clean at last!”

Having only a small supply of energy
I must choose wisely what to do with it.
Do I cook? Do I clean? Do I go out to buy some food?
What are my priorities, for this small supply of “able to do”?

All too often the choice becomes imperative, no choice at all–
Go to the doctor’s, pick up medication, grocery shop.
Some days the energy supply is so limited that just sitting
And typing on the computer uses it all up.

I am dirty; I stink. My hair is grotesque.
I disgust myself because I can’t remember when
I last took a shower. A week? Maybe two?
Too long and I want, but more need, a shower.

(We must insert this small note here to
Remind our gentle reader that a shower is not a big deal.
Unless…you have a chronic illness or chronic pain
Which requires a different set of rules for life.)

Mornings are the time of day for me to do things.
Always has been and more so even now–
Even before medications, before I’ve gone through my day
And used up that little triple A battery I call energy.

Thoughtfulness is a hallmark of my spiritual path,
Which is good because I need it for my physical life.
Awareness of my being, compassionate consideration of my body.
Taking a shower is like planning D-Day.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then I’m a sinner–
Black as coal and unrepentant, stained with my sins.
But not through intent or any of the seven, deadly sins.
I haven’t had the fun of sinning to gain this status.

An animal that is sick will not take care of itself,
Does not groom its fur nor maintain its den.
Humans are no different because illness drains the energy
And choices must be made or nothing gets done.

I could–and sometimes do–weep for those days when
I long to place my body under the healing waters,
To scrub the dirt and smell of neglect off of me–
But lack the necessary ability to stand and soap and rinse and dry.

It’s not like I’m a coal miner or a pro athlete.
How do I get so dirty? Well, not dirty so much as ….
Stinky? I do nothing that requires enough exertion
To make this nasty miasma of … wait, it’s just “not clean”.

Oh the joy! Oh the rapture of making it into the shower;
To stand beneath the glorious waterfall of heat
And wet that washes away the smell and the sadness
Of not being able to do this unthinkingly.

The comforting thrill of the water pouring over my head,
Over my hair and down over my body.
The only thing better would be if I could
Lay down in a tub, a pool, the ocean…and be covered with water.

Water is my natural element, I have a strong connection
With it, no matter the form it takes.
I am happiest at the beach, with the ever-changing, ever the same waves
And the endless susurration of the water’s song.

A shower has always been a substitute for being in
The salty arms of Mother Ocean, laying on her skirt
And watching the birds overhead while I am rocked,
Like a child, in the loving undulations of water’s movement.

But personal hygiene is not as poetic as an ocean thought.
Millions of people do it, every day, without even a thought
Let alone poetic, philosophical or even spiritual consideration.
My shower is not like theirs at all.

It begins with the decision that today I will take a shower.
I have my own shower’s ritual: place two towels on the
Closed toilet seat; one for the hair, one for the body.
Start the water and give it a chance to heat up.

I set the temperature to comfortable–which my Beloved
Refers to as “lobster” because it’s too hot for him.
I step into the tiny world of our shower stall–31 inches square,
We measured. And I close the curtain behind me.

Inside this small world, apart from the rest of my life,
I worship the warmth and the water, letting it run
Over me, on me, preparing for the next step in
This most sacred rite of becoming godly.

Everything I do is thoughtfully done.
It has to be, because everything I do to get clean–
Has a price I will pay in pain.
This must be done efficiently and carefully.

I shampoo my hair. A simple declaration, yes–but with the complexity
Of a chronic illness behind it, one that doesn’t tell
The cost of that act, the amount of energy required just…
To shampoo my hair.

My hair is very long. Would it be easier for me
If I cut it very short? Could I wash it with less pain?
Of course. But I will not make that choice
Until I can absolutely no longer pay that price.

My actions for washing my hair look the same as yours.
I scrub my scalp, I rub the shampoo through the hair.
I must bend my head far enough down that I do not
Have to lift my hands above my head…

…this is the happy medium in price: both my shoulders
And my neck will hurt afterwards, but neither one as bad
As if I had not bowed my head. Spreading the pain out,
So to speak and lessening the impact on any one site.

I put conditioner in the hair and move on
To scrubbing the body with my puffy scrubber.
To exfoliate and remove the detritus of “too much time between showers”
I scrub hard. And it hurts on all the pressure points, all the trigger spots.

The size of the shower is both a blessing and a curse–
I have no room to bend over to scrub legs and feet.
But I prop myself, ass on one side, foot on the other,
Knees bent and reach all the parts I need to clean.

I rinse, feeling clean again and figure this happy state
Is worth the rest of the day spent doing as little as possible.
I’m clean, cooking doesn’t matter. I’m clean,
Doing dishes and cleaning can wait for another day.

The last part of my shower ritual has always been,
Since I began showering by myself as a child,
To make the water even a bit hotter than “lobster”
And to let it run over my back. I can feel the muscles relax.

I turn off the water and open the curtain, stepping
Back out into the world, a new person–different, sanctified.
I wrap my hair up in a turban and then I
Wrap the big towel around my body; this is my godliness.

Q-tips for the ears, lotion for the face.
I sit for a while in my towels, enjoying the “just washed” feel
And the lack of stinky smell; the baptism in the river Jordan.
I am saved from dirt and neglect; I am clean at last!

I take my medications, I begin my day online.
Eventually, I will find clean clothes to put on and
Place the ones I’ve been wearing for a week
Into the laundry basket to await their own sacred bath.

The pain is there, it always is…my neck, my arms, my hands.
I’m tired enough for a nap, I have no energy to eat BUT
I have showered and scrubbed and washed my soul
And I am clean at last, clean at last!

Thank the gods almighty, clean at last!