Reaching for one of my favorite shirts, I noticed a dark stain on the pocket, certainly from a leaky pen. Of course, the shirt is an off-white/ light brown color. What to do? My wife recommended a cool spot remover. Just press down on the stain and some gel comes out, let it sit, rub it a little, and voila!, the stain is lifted out.
Which made me think of all the seemingly indelible stains on the hand-me-down clothes we wear, the ones made by our ancestors that they neither could wash out nor care to even try. The spots and blots and blemishes of genocide and slavery and unchecked lust for gold and a patriarchy that lorded over, dominated, abused women and children. All those past tense verbs that continue in the present tense because not enough of us have done the laundry or attended to the soiled stains.
The metaphor doesn’t quite hold up, because we could certainly make or choose to wear new clothes and that would be a simple solution. But the stains are not on cloth. They permeate the the very fabric of our souls and psyches. What kind of spot removers do we need to attend to those?
In the attention-getting opening line, “There are two kinds of people in this world,” the answer is not “Those who are suffering and those who are not.” As Buddha suggested some 2500 years ago, we all of us are suffering just by virtue of having been born. The very act of birth is our first trauma, the shock of leaving the comfort of the womb for the bright lights and strange air and hunger in the belly. From there, take your pick. Even those spared the extremes of dysfunctional families, poverty, racism, misogyny, religious brainwashing, chronic physical pain or illness, drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, anxiety, depression, war, natural catastrophes, will still suffer the slings and arrows of fortune, from betrayal to disappointment to the inevitable loss of everything and everyone we’ve grown to love. Suffering is humanity’s common denominator and it would serve us well to understand that better.
So the two types of people? Those that acknowledge their pain and grief and suffering and work with it to get to the equal measure of joy, love and happiness available to us. To work with it all, accept it as our responsibility to feel it, understand it and transform it, to use the opportunity to grow larger souls. To become our own spot remover, learning how to lift out the stains both personally and collectively, to absorb the grief and sorrow.
The second type of person refuses the invitation to look at their own part in keeping the worst in us going and instead jumps on the fundamentalist bandwagon of blame, hatred, anger, letting someone else do the driving while they sit passively in the back seat in some lemming-like journey toward the cliff’s edge and over. Their spot remover burns through the whole cloth, removing both the stain and the soul.
So that’s where the trip to the laundry room led me. And sorry to say, after soaking in the spot remover’s chemical for a night and me rubbing it, the stain on my shirt is still here. A little lighter, but very noticeable. So in both worlds, this is not a quick fix. Back to work.