I’ve had this happen twice for me. I got a stain with some chemical or food compound that everyone universally tells me is impossible to get out. That I need to either accept the stain as is or throw out the shirt. One of the first times was with one of my favourite white shirts when I cut open a glow stick and sprayed the flourescent liquid all over my shirt. The warning even told me this would happen. Pro-tip: don’t cut open a glow stick unless you are ready to be covered in hard to remove glowing liquid.
Now, the shirt got a weird glowing yellow splash on it. It felt that regardless of how much bleach I used or spray wash I put on it, it wasn’t going to come out.
Naturally, I couldn’t wear it anymore until I either fixed it or threw it out. My wife, and my good friend Joe simply told me to just throw it out, but I viewed it as a challenge. It’s a white shirt, the worst that can happen if I use too much bleach is it falls apart (and then gets thrown out) or it gets clean. I may as well condemn it to the trash when it’s actually unfixable, not just a bit dirty.
So, thus began my adventure with getting out stains. After many many washes, using many different techniques (soaking in bleach, coating stain in spray’n’wash™, washing in hot water, washing in cold water, beating it up, etc.), it actually came out. Every time a little more came out, and then suddenly the shirt was clean. I could’ve thrown it out, but because I had faith it could be cleaned or at least wouldn’t throw it out until it was totally destroyed, it actually got cleaned. I saved my dress shirt.
Sadly, this happened again with a a favourite t-shirt I got in Japan. I think I spilled salsa on it, and didn’t realize it until it was well dried into the shirt. To make matters worse, I had run it through the dryer with the stain still in it.
And… this shirt was coloured and had a cute panda bear design on it. I couldn’t simply use bleach or so I thought, but at the same time, I was determined that I’d rather destroy the shirt (bleach it to white, have it fall apart, etc) before I threw it out. I wasn’t going to condemn it until it was actually destroyed.
Amazingly… it got cleaned after a few dozen washes, and it didn’t fade either.
It was a great feeling, actually. Both times I saved a favourite item, simply by not giving up on it.
These shirts were cleaned about a year ago, but for some odd reason it all came to mind when I heard the gospel reading at mass. The famous one most of us have heard where Jesus saves an adulterer from being stoned to death.
Specifically this line stood out to me:
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
It seems to me that Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t ignore wrongs that people commit, or ignore the fact that we ourselves all have stains. This story is saying for us to not give up on ourselves or others. That we can all be washed clean. He doesn’t say she is without sin, nor does he forgive her sins. He says, “it’s ok, you are worth saving, go forth and try, and don’t get more dirty.”
He saves her from being condemned not for simply being unclean, but because they believed she was uncleanable.
I think we have been called to repentance because we don’t need to wear the stains either. We all are sinners (ie. that famous Catholic guilt), but that doesn’t mean we are all condemned.
So many people give up on getting rid of their habits that, in the end, make their and their friend’s and family’s life worse. Even more seem to think the Catholic guilt that points out these stains somehow makes them worse, that they can’t be cleaned, so why point it out. They get viscerally angry at those who can see the stain and introduce them to the tools that can be used to get out the stain. Yes, sometimes these tools are hard on us, just like bleach and spray’n’wash can be hard on fabric, but it’s possible to get it out. You just need to keep on trying.
And once you get it out, you are actually free and clean. You are actually forgiven.
I think that’s the great feeling so many converts to Catholicism say after their first reconcilliation, that’s the feeling so many Catholics who have lost their way don’t understand anymore.
In today’s easy come, easy go mentality, it’s easy to forget that. It just takes a bit more effort and you can get out the worst stains you can imagine.
And once those stains are out, you’ll have back your favourite thing.
You’ll have back yourself.