I don’t often meet an expert who understands the value of dirt.
Not sacred dirt. Not holy dirt. Just plain dirt, the kind you see on the bottom of a toddler’s rubber pants after she has dragged herself through the back yard, leaving a trail as wide as a big turtle’s.
I had this singular pleasure last night when, at a party given by friends, I listened to Sandra Blakeslee, The New York Times science writer (among many other things) discuss her forthcoming book. To gain a sense of Sandra’s accomplishments, look her up on Google.
It’s beyond me to adequately describe her thesis, but I gleaned several facts that support observations of mine (and these are the best kind of facts, as we all know).
The first is that infants born vaginally gain microbes as they pass through the birth canal that are extremely important for their later health and immunity.
The plague of Caesarean sections in this country has obscured this vital information; one out of three women in this country now “elect”—can it be called that?—to deliver through this major abdominal surgery, with its risks and long recovery, either because of convenience—theirs, or their doctors’—or because of some notion about what is best for the baby.
Sandra proves that vaginal delivery is best, allowing, of course, for the medical emergencies that make a C-section necessary. But, according to some surveys, the fact that our doctors are no longer trained in the use of forceps or vacuum to aid delivery means a fast turn to the knife at the first hint of a complication. (I’m reminded of the fact that we are no longer training doctors, routinely, to perform abortions, which is seriously limiting women’s legal right to choose…)
So what does all this have to do with dirt?
Dirt comes in a little later in Sandra’s argument. Between one and three years of age, a toddler who is allowed to get dirty, dragging around the yard on her bottom, making mud pies, or dabbling in rain puddles, gains essential microbes in her digestive system which ensure better health later on.
We all need to get dirty more often, for our health and possibly for our souls, which may need to root in something more substantial, and messier, than words. There was a reason medieval monks scattered ashes on their heads…
We find ourselves now obsessed with cleanliness; in some restaurants, signs in Spanish and English even instruct employees how to wash their hands in five clearly illustrated steps—a not very subtle form of condescension—even though it seems obvious, as one guest last night pointed out, that cleanliness is not next to Godliness and does not ensure that we won’t get sick.
Rather, the opposite.
As a friend who has led tour groups to Morocco remarked, the first tourists to get sick on the trip were those who constantly sprayed that antiseptic wash on their hands.
I wonder if our cleanliness craze has its roots in the primal fear we are gripped by as the world totters and reels on its axis, the same fear that makes us shun airports and boycott literature that uses “bad” words.
It might even be possible that Donald Trump would be a different man if he got down on his knees and grubbed in the cellar holes of his enormous buildings. A little dirt on his hands might satisfy his appetite for verbal dirt.
A billboard I see every week on my way up to Taos for my writing workshop shows a scowling little boy above the line, “We cure everything but potty mouth.” I haven’t been able to figure out, as I fly past, what service is being offered. Dentistry? Scourging?
There was a remedy for lying once that called for washing the miscreant’s mouth out with soap, a horrible experience, and one we might well want to call on often during the final six weeks of our national struggle.
Dirt, though, might be even more effective.