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Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Secret of The Poor

Jesus was poor and so were Mary and Joseph. It is laughable when liberal priests speak of them as being middle-class. There was no middle class in the First Century anywhere. The middle class was a result the social and financial changes during the Renaissance.

The fact that the Holy Family lived in poverty can be overlooked by many in the West who have never experienced poverty or penury.

God has allowed me in His Infinite Goodness and Wisdom to be poor, very poor. Being poor is like being on a camping trip which never ends. One has a sense of the transitory and the basics of life all the time. Poverty of spirit is being detached but also not being comfortable. To be poor is to live in a state of uncomfortableness.

This state reminds one that one is not made for this world, that one on pilgrimage constantly.

I own nothing, but a few books here, and in storage, some writings of mine here, and of my ancestors, in storage, some photos in storage, and, here, a few clothes and a laptop. I have a few icons and paintings in storage, and a few icons with me, plus my two rosaries, (one of the Sorrowful Mother), a cross I wear, a scapular I wear, and a few medals laying about the flat. That is it. 

I do not mind simplicity. I do mind inconvenience and lack of basic necessities, but I am trying not to mind. I am getting more and more use to not living a middle class lifestyle.

I have learned another secret of the poor besides being hungry and thirsty, being cold, being hot, being isolated, being judged as a lesser, dumber, less worthy person than others, being tired when on the bus, being ill without having the means to do anything about it, having to walk rather than drive all the time, not having good shoes or decent boots.

I asked Mary today in prayer whether she ever experienced this new thing I have had to face daily for a month. Basically, I have to decide between wearing dirty clothes, mildew clothes, or damp clothes.

Here is why. In this flat there is no washing machine or dryer. I wash all my clothes out by hand, which I did in the convent in Cobh. Ireland is damp, but the convent had places to hang out clothes to dry. With lots of rain, storms and humidity on a clear day of 89% here in Malta, my clothes simply do not dry. When I rented here in Malta before, there were washing machines in the flats which wrung out the clothes so that they dried in two days or less in the little patios out back.  I am no longer strong enough to wring all the water out of clothes by hand very well. I do not have my own patio.

When I lived in England, we had a washer-dryer, but some things had to be put in the airing cupboards. No such thing here. And, there is no central heating and no "fire" as at some of my friends' homes in England. I have an electric heater which would be highly expensive to run. My flat is now cold and damp. I have things hanging everywhere in this small studio flat.

Clothes do not dry in damp air.

Sometimes I try to iron things dry. I have even tried my hair dryer on some tights. That did not work. Some clothes have gone "pongy" and I am forced to wash them again. Sometimes, I have to wear things when these are very damp. Several times,  I have had to wear pongy clothes. Some people on the bus smell bad. They have dirty clothes. I do not judge them. I could be one of them. So, I wear damp clothes which are clean.

People like to romanticize about the Holy Family. In the First Century, there were no washers, no dryers. Deodorant did not exist and soaps were rare. The Babylonians invented soap about 2,800 B.C., but many peoples used oils to clean and scrap off dirt. Most people wore clothes more than once. In the Renaissance, when the New World was discovered, people bought oranges imported to Europe, and carried them around to hold up to their noses in order to combat bad smells. Perfumes were used to disguise bad smells. Perfumed handkerchiefs were held up to the nose as well.

Most ancient cultures had soap. I am sure Mary had soap, but it could have been expensive. She most certainly had to put her clothes outside to dry. She most certainly did not have enough clothes for a week, as I do not. She most certainly washed clothes frequently, and water was a chore to get.  She had to walk to the well more than once day, most likely. At least I have water for washing in the flat. I have to buy drinking water. All Maltese either buy water or have special systems in their homes for filtering.

The water here is mostly from rain water. One cannot drink the tap water. Buying water is a necessity. Think of Mary walking maybe as far as six blocks or a mile twice daily to get water. Imagine her doing laundry for hours, not minutes as I was use to doing.

I remember when I was a teacher in Bristol that the women would still lay there laundry out on one of the highest hills in the city. This was an old custom allowed by the city. One could see quilts and sheets laid out on the grass in the distance. I have no hills, no grass. There is a courtyard, but I share it with others, and it is now too damp and rainy to put things out.

Mary most likely washed things out daily, and put them on her roof, as people still do here in Malta. One sees lines with laundry everywhere, when the sun is shining, when the air is dry.

An old woman at Mass yesterday complained to me that she could not get her clothes to dry. I sympathized. Still, she has a washing machine and a small garden. She said this was a damp year.

Yesterday, when the storms came rolling in from the west, I was out walking. Many people were drenched as the rain came down for hours.

I got very wet and very cold. Sometimes the rain comes from the west, sometimes from the north, sometimes from the east. The western winds bring dirty rain, with sand in it, and when the air is damp and the thunderstorms come off the Mediterranean or Africa, one lives in dampness.

Our Blessed Mother worked much harder at keeping her family clothing clean than most of us today. But, I have been given a few insights into the secrets of the poor. She suffered things most of us cannot imagine. She must have had sore hands and a sore back from doing laundry by hand. I know. She spent much more time doing basic chores than most westerners. I know.

I saw a laundry truck today which had a logo on it plus a little saying something like, "Because your time is precious". To pay for a laundry service is highly expensive. I live too far to carry things to a laundromat and I only know of that one. I could not carry things two miles away or so. And, it is expensive as well.

So, when I have to go out with damp clothes, I pray to Mary for strength and peace, even joy.

Such is one of the secrets of the poor. I think of St. Therese being splashed with dirty water by the nun next to her in the laundry room. I was splashed yesterday on the pavement. The water was brown with dirt. One carries on with wet legs and wet feet. One prays for those who cannot walk or get to Mass.

By the way, when I was in America, one of my hobbies was making soap. I loved doing this. The last time I made soap was in 2010. Seems a long time ago now. I would make lots of different designer soaps and give many away for presents. I made soap with real lavender, beeswax, annatto seeds various other herbs, and oatmeal. I also used essential oils, such as bergamot or lemon. We had colored bars and various shapes of soap in the house. No more middle-class luxuries now....