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True love means dirt

Properly caring for someone means embracing their grime as well as their beauty.
Happy feet
Posted April 4, 2012

A few years back, some friends and I got together over the Parachute Festival weekend to run a foot-washing stall in the festival village. A free scrub between the phalanges, an exfoliation and dry—it was to be like the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified, but on a grander scale.

We had foot spas from The Warehouse, aromatic body wash and exfoliating gloves from The Body Shop, and hundreds of free Christian youth magazines to hand out. The concept was beautiful; it was biblical. We envisioned thousands of festival goers, lining up to wash and be washed—the sweet fragrances of papaya, pink grapefruit and of selfless love filling the air.

Come Friday afternoon, several hours into day one, reality hit. 

It was hot and dusty. There were over 20,000 people in one place and most of them were wearing jandals. We weren’t exactly short of grubby leg ends, meaning that the foot washing was in high demand. However, it wasn’t the logistics of dealing with so many people that killed us, it was their dirt. 

Picture the amount of grime that might come off just one pair of dusty feet: enough to discolour a bucket of water. We figured we could get by on four or five washes per bucket, but after almost every wash the water was ruined. Our water supply and drain was a good 30 metres away, so after each happy customer we would traipse over to the tap, empty, re-fill and come back with a mixture of dirty and clean water spilt over ourselves.

Then there were the towels. We had about 20 of them. It looked like a good stack to begin with, easily enough to get us through the first day. They barely lasted an hour. Our clean, white towels soon became brown, wet rags. There was nothing to do but rip them into smaller pieces, washing them as we went (as best we could) and hanging them on our small marquee to dry. It looked like chaos. It was chaos.

Come 11 pm that night we had almost completed our first day of four. I say ‘almost’ because then two members of the team had a date with a washing machine. After several loads and several hours, they went to bed.  At 9 am it all started again. And so on for three more, long days.

We had some incredible encounters with people: shared prayers and testimonies, keen foot-washing volunteers, refreshments of body and soul, and even the odd ticklish person who had everyone laughing with their love/hate relationships with the experience. But, overall, it was just hard.

Our vision was to demonstrate love and provide a platform for others to do the same. However, we didn’t bank on the age-old truth that true love means dirt. Properly caring for someone means embracing their grime as well as their beauty … and that weekend we saw lots of grime.

It’s funny; the picture we can so often have of love is of the sort of emotional attachment evidenced in handholding, whispered compliments and kisses. But this foot washing weekend was a lesson for me that true love—meaningful love—can be more about the pain and sacrifice typified by Jesus on Good Friday than the sentimentality of romance.

By Hayden Shearmen (from War Cry, 7 April 2012, p3)