Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Good Hand Soap

Hand soap is an indescribably small thing in the large scale of the world. When compared to Napoleon or Brazil or the governmental debt of the United States, it seems to be of little importance.

But is it?

I have searched through trash cans and trashy Wal-Marts to research this post; I have ventured to depths of shelving in supermarkets that have been untouched for decades past. What I have found as a result of my daring research has surprised me beyond belief.

Good hand soap can be the tipping point of an avalanche, the slightest grain of sand that might steady or fall at a breath of the wind. It may, for instance, stop a missionary kid in Africa from getting typhoid or tuberculosis; it may prevent a doctor from getting a deadly disease in the emergency ward; it may prevent you from flunking your test as a result of your awful cold.

Washing your hands with good soap is one of the bedrocks of civilization, for whether the missionary kid in Africa or pastor's kid in America eats one meal a day or three, he must make sure his hands are clean beforehand.

It is said that the Native Americans fell before their various European conquerors, not from their swords, but their spit. Germs felled more men than swords did. And I can only imagine how the tides of history might have turned if, by a stupendous miracle, the Aztecs might have been graced with the gift of hand soap.

This takes only one of the faces of the many-sided die that is the miracle of hand soap—the medical one.

Take another side, that of democracy. If Barack Obama wishes to celebrate diversity, I hope that he may go home and look to his hand soap. I can't speak for the state of American bathrooms, but scarcely do I see more diversity here in Africa than when I look at a bathroom sink. I have seen many brands cross my porcelain altar, and I have marked their passing. I have seen the English Breeze drop like teardrops to my hands; I have read the incomprehensible Arabic on that cylindrical plastic as the suds rise into the air and dance for joy. All of the wonder of the Middle East and all of the refinery of the United Kingdom meet in my Liberian bathroom; three continents cupped in two American hands!

I cannot, however, fail to recognize the philosophical value of hand soap. The prospects are overwhelming.

Let me mentioned, at least, the immense joy that good hand soap brings. Please notice the adjective that I used there: “good” hand soap.

My sister sometimes visits a Canadian friend of ours here on ELWA; we may drop by there on a walk or stop by to help her move furniture. But whatever happens, if we should use her bathroom, our inevitable compliment is a joy-drunken exclamation on the state of her hand soap. It is indescribable. Not only because it superbly cleans our hands (which is, after all, the point of hand soap) but because the scent and texture is like that of the Greek nectar of the gods.

However our day might go, whether it is raining mongooses or whether the day is parched as the summer cirrus clouds, we may look forward to the joy of using her hand soap. It is a simple joy, which may be the best sort of joy there is, because you can find it anywhere—if you are looking for it.

There is, also, the spiritual parallel of hand-washing. Perhaps those who are religious about washing their hands may be religious about washing their souls. At the very least, it indicates that there are some people who are willing to be washed if they can see their need, whether it be dirty hands or dirty souls.

If we continue that parallel, we might say that Christ is the best sort of hand soap there is. As he cleanses us, he may fill us with simple joy; he might delight our senses; and if we should have cuts, he may sting us in his cleansing. Let us not be content with cheap soap, of half-Christianities and almost-churches. Good soap is expensive; it may cost us. But in the long run, the cost is worth the benefit.

All of this and more I have to say about hand soap—but time would fail me to tell the rest, so I will stop here. I have, however, one more thing to say.

The average human being will tell you that the standard time to wash your hands is twenty or thirty seconds. (My grandma, who was a nurse, often reminds us of this; and says that when certain bathrooms were videotaped—a rather awkward pause came here—many people either washed their hands for five or ten seconds or did not wash at all.)

Obviously, your mind ought to be doing something during this time, other than controlling your hands and causing them to lather up your soap.

My suggestion is to not squander this time; or if you do squander it, to squander it constructively. For half a minute, allow yourself to ponder the intricacies of hand soap. Purify your mind as well as your hands; dwell on simple joys and a cleansing Savior.

Perhaps all that can't be thought of in a mere twenty seconds, but I think if a fraction of that went through your head, it would be a twenty seconds well wasted.


  1. I'm continually amazed how you can find meaning and life lessons in such small things- even something as mundane as hand soap (which, I'll confess, I spend very little time thinking about). I'll definitely have to remember what you said.

  2. Funny...I want to start making goat milk soaps. Lol. :) love the parallel.