We are Community.


The author is neither a medical professional nor a data scientist: he is a social observer asking questions.

Dirt, especially clay and that rich, dark soil called humus, is composed of decayed biological material. This can be made of shells and composted plants or animals. Not to put too fine a point on it, while there is some mineral and volcanic content, good dirt is largely corpses and crap.

And kids love to play in it.

The dirt in front of the house where I lived as a child turned a rich red after the rain (because of Georgia clay). Combined in a proper ratio with the sand that was still present from the construction of our home one could make something reminiscent of a certain candy. One called it “cinnamon.” One (ok, me) could mix it for one’s younger sister who liked it for making mud pies. All the corpses and crap never were a factor in our eyes, nor on our fingers, even our mouths from time to time. (I tried Sis’ mudpies once. I think we all did, really.)

This fond memory arises because it seems kids do not make mudpies anymore out of actual mud – made from corpses and crap, although they do use a sort of sanitized sands (of differing colors) located in isolated play boxes. As adults now these previously unmuddied kids use hand towels to touch handrails on mass transit and wash their hands more than Lady Macbeth. Your host wonders if this is at all healthy.

As a child hands and face (and sometimes feet – especially in the case of mud) were washed most days. But a bath came up only once a week. This was true of my grandparents as well as my parents. We were not particularly poor, but no one bathed all the time. My brother, sister, and I had a bath on Saturdays (before Sunday School the next day) and I think the adults bathed on Sunday nights before work. I also remember folks bathing before important events. However, I don’t think daily showers became a part of my grandfather’s life until he moved to the Gulf Coast and swam every day. He showered to rinse the salt off his body. Now, however, we bathe every day. Some bathe more than once a day – especially if there’s a workout involved. And we wash hands constantly. I find myself wondering if washing all the time, every day, might actually be making us more susceptible to illness.

Our soaps are no longer just soaps, but rather are detergents that remove our protective oils from our skins. We are of body oils, yet these are our first line of immune defenses. They even work in clothes: yet we’re terrified of clothing that might smell like humans wear it. (More on smells in a minute.) We use alcohol-based products which also remove our oils. Both soap and alcohol, as we use them, disrupt the biome on our skin surface by removing the friendly germs that run around on our bodies killing other things. Each time we wash or sanitize, we not only kill bad things, but we wipe the surface fully clear of any possible defense for the next attack.

On top of this bathing, we use scented supplies to smell like whatever is popular at the current time, to smell like anything but the particular smells of our bodies. (As a child, I remember how different homes smelled: the whole family of occupants as identifiable by smell as by surname.)

A droplet of moisture from the person standing next to you lands on your skin, devoid of oils, perfectly dry, undefended, and all your pores open to suck up the much-needed moisture… yep. Perfect.

Perfect for transmission.

We say we want to be healthy and clean, when, in fact, what we mean is we want to be antiseptic.

The human body has evolved by divine light to be the exact opposite of antiseptic. We are a universe in microcosm. We share this flesh and blood, these pores and all our orifices, with thousands (millions? billions?) of other organisms that move through and with us in our daily lives. We were dirty (literally) for millennia, that’s what has allowed this to evolve. Every creature that (rightly) shares our body with us is dedicated to doing its microscopic part in defending our life which is also its own life. Upsetting this human-sized universe is a sure recipe for failure. We are a community – a human-and-other perichoresis of life. When we act as if we “own” this body, we end up denying the body itself. Soap and sanitizer become gnostic salves that destroy us.

Mind you: This is not saying Doctors shouldn’t wash their hands, or that there are not places where an antiseptic process is needed for safety. Cutting open the flesh for surgery, for example, is a prime example of where we would want a clean field exactly because we are destroying the main defensive shield, the human flesh.

Our obsession, however, with “being clean” & “smelling nice” seems to have basically set us up for the very danger we seek to avoid. We have forgotten we are made of corpses and crap. And that will probably return us to dust even faster than remembering anything.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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