It was a lovely summer day, and my two nieces had begged me to take them to a neighbor's swing-set. Their badly-designed sandals, however, were preventing them from being able to climb nimbly, so I took them off.
The two and a half year old, her big eyes extra-wide in horror, looked dubiously down at her toes, curled against the grass and dirt.
"Zeidy says that mud is good for you," she said carefully.
"Mud is good for you. Mud is good for you. Mud is good for you," she mumbled to herself over and over, anchoring her mind against this travesty that feels so wrong. My shoes were long abandoned; I had walked over barefoot.
My initial relationship with dirt sprang more out of laziness. Constant vacuuming, windexing, and scrubbing is kind of tedious. Even though I have a dust allergy, I don't eviscerate the mites as often as I should. Purell? Please.
Then data came out that anti-bacterial soaps merely stress germs to create superbugs (which also proves the point that hardship results in stronger human beings) which our immune systems have trouble fighting off. The constant disinfection in hospitals doesn't nuke everything; hospital-acquired infections do exist.
Advertisements try to convince their audience that caring mothers whip out ammonia or bleach-based products to "protect their families." From what? A little backyard dirt? After all, there are so many cases of grass stains leading to croup.
We underestimate the divine design of the human body; it can be capable of quite a lot. Sometimes we have to be willing to trust its own defenses, providing it with healthy fuel and sufficient sleep to go to war every day.
Of course, lack of hygiene was responsible for a lot of diseases and deaths once upon a time. Take the Plague, which would resurface periodically over the last few centuries to cause miserable ends, and the people had no idea about hand washing and diminished contact.
But any extreme can be dangerous. The theory is, as stated in the book, "An Epidemic of Absence," is:
This hypothesis argues that our modern obsession with eradicating germs has backfired into an explosion of disease, specifically all the “new” diseases that have replaced infections to undermine our health. The modern immune system, the idea holds, is stymied by the sudden absence of its customary microbial targets. With nothing constructive to do, it is crazily spinning its wheels, resulting in soaring rates of food allergies and asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, even heart disease and cancer — not to mention alopecia, the premature baldness from which Mr. Velasquez-Manoff suffers and which led him to the subject in the first place. (In an opinion article in The New York Times last month, he suggested that an immune disorder might account for many cases of autism.)Neither the book reviewer nor I agree that disinfection is the cause of all our woes. But germs and dirt are misunderstood nowadays.
I know of a highly clean family, where no grime is tolerated, every surface sparkles, scrubbed daily, perhaps even hourly. Two of the children have stomach-related autoimmune conditions.
I will not tolerate an "ichy" or an "ew" or a "gross." Everything in this world has a job to do, even the "gross."