Lessons Learned From a White T-Shirt


I should know better than to wear white shirts.

It doesn’t matter how careful I am to avoid anything that might sully the pristine canvas of a white t-shirt…the shirt gets it every time. This time it was yellow highlighter. Of all things, how did that manage to come in contact with my torso?

Zilla also manages to drop things on her clothing. And the Fab Hub is very skilled at stains – always manages to hit precisely the same spot on any shirt.

And so we break out the pre-soak stuff most nights and attempt to rid our garments of the evidence of our apparently messy lives.

Recently, as I was spraying away at the stains on a pile of shirts, I started thinking about the differences in our stain patterns or habits, if you will. There is much to be learned in the laundry room…

Take the Fab Hub, for example. Inexplicably, the man manages to get the same sized spot in precisely the same location of just about any shirt. Not that he’s a hopeless slob – it’s just that when he does manage to drop something on a shirt, it’s always the same. It’s reflective of his personality. He’s consistent. He’s reliable. He is faithful. So maybe it stands to reason that his shirt stains would work in much the same manner.

Then there’s Kidzilla. Her stains happen everywhere, not just on the front of shirt where you expect to see a stain, but also on the shoulders, the lower back, the side of her skirts, the lower half of the leg of her pants…everywhere. Maybe it says something about her as well. She is pretty unexpected herself in so many ways. And she lives her little life enthusiastically – always twisting, turning, running, shouting, and moving in every direction her little legs will take her. She also has a penchant for attracting the darkest of hues for her stains. But again, that’s her. She’s bold and brave and puts herself out there for the world to see.

And finally, we come to my stains. My stains seem to happen most often when I am being the most careful; it’s when I don’t think about keeping the stuff of life off my blouse that I manage to escape unmarked. I think that’s pretty much how my life works, too. When I try too hard to micromanage and control everything around me, things tend to get more complicated. I’ve been accused of thinking too hard more than once in my life. When I let go a little and relax about what might come hurtling at me, I am able to dodge the falling meatballs with a little more skill.

And so we all manage to come home soiled at the end of the day at one point or another. Then we go about the business of cleaning ourselves up and erasing the evidence. But sometimes those stains just won’t come out, no matter what product or home made solution you try. Some stains just stick around – faintly – forever. This, too, is true of life. Some experiences can be lived, brushed gently away, and then forgotten; others affect us deeply and remain a permanent mark on our soul. Many of these long-lasting memories are unhappy ones, things we might wish to bleach away. But just as many others are happy. We’re proud to keep those stains and tell the stories of how we earned them over and over again.

So maybe it’s not such a good idea to scrub away at our stains and make our shirts spotless again. Or is it? It’s certainly a good idea to wear a clean, unstained shirt to a job interview or to church or to meet your future in-laws. People generally think well of us when we present a neat and tidy version of ourselves to the world. Children in clean clothing suggest something positive about the effectiveness of the parenting they receive.

But don’t we all have our favorite old shirts? You know, the ones that you can’t possibly wear in public, but can’t bear to throw away? The Fab Hub has one or two. Why not throw them away? I’ve asked him, actually. I’ve presented reasonable arguments for why the old shirts should go.

Me: You’re not wearing them in public and surely you want to look nice at home for your wife…right?

FH: I like my old shirts. They fit me. They’re comfortable.

He’s right. Our old, stained shirts do fit us. They are comfortable. Maybe hanging on to those comfortable, stained old favorites is like owning our past and allowing it to be part of who we are today. For better or worse, our past leads to our present and, ultimately, our future. Any stains we acquire along the way either wash away or leave their mark. Some stains need to go as do some experiences, some people, and some habits if they are not beneficial to our personal growth. But others are OK to hang on to and forgive a little. Keep them for the appropriate time or place to let them show, but be OK with the fact that they exist and aren’t going anywhere.

In laundry, as in life, it is probably wise to develop an ability to recognize the stains that are easily removed and those that are not. It is also wise to learn when to work harder at removing a stain and when to let it go.

Some things are just meant to be.

This post was previously published on The Meaning of Me and is republished here with permission from the author.

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