When I graduated from Messiah College in May of 2000, I was given a towel along with all other graduates that year, the years prior, and I believe, the years since. It is a tradition I have come to appreciate more in the years since graduation. At the time, I thought the towel only a memento of the day, too small for any functional use, and a symbol only to be kept in its pristine whiteness till kingdom come.
A few years ago, I found the towel while organizing my things. I almost got rid of it, but then I decided to use it. Why have something as decoration when it is functional? And who wants a towel from my graduation? The other day I looked at it when I dried my hands. It is no longer pristine white. The stains from the foundation I use have led me to question what I am willing to put on my face and my decision to use the towel at all.
My original inclination to save the towel as a symbolic representation and reminder to live a life of service seemed like the better decision. Then I wondered how damaged it would look if I would had been using it since 2000 instead of only using it since 2014. I thought of usefulness with the intrinsic caveat of damage. Nothing used will stay in its original condition. It’s physics.
What other things in my life have I tried to keep pristine, original, symbolic? What is meant to be useful that I have kept as show, afraid to get it dirty? If the towel was to spur me to a life of service and my towel is not very dirty, how might this metaphor be true in other areas of my life?
Have I really been serving, or have I been doing things that look like serving, but don’t get me very dirty? If my service is symbolic, then who is benefiting from it? If I’m going to serve those who need it, won’t the line be blurred between who is helping and who is being helped? If I have a towel and I’m present and there is an opportunity to use it, will I wait for someone else to use their towel, so I can save mine from whatever uncomely issue needs the cleaning?
My culture tells me to hide messes and anything used to clean up the mess, to use a filter to make better what is not great. It tells me to compare my towel with another’s towel instead of my own towel at different stages. In 2019, I’m taking the towels in my life out of their trophy cases. I’m using the proper tools at the proper time. I’m not waiting for the queen to visit to use the china, I’m not keeping the furniture covered in plastic. I’m not keeping that creepy green film on the brass fixtures, and I’m using that towel for whatever needs a towel. What tool of yours will you take from storage? I hope to see you out there serving, getting dirty, and loving every minute of it.