Isn’t it time to dump the cotton?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

I kid you not: It was like saying goodbye to a dear friend.

A few weeks ago, I had to part with something that’s been a staple of my life for several years. Each time that I’d used it lately, though, people would comment.

The “dear friend” was my wallet. Sure, it was faded, battered and had a significant tear in it, but it was perfectly molded to my anatomy.

What finally pushed me to jettison it was the look a waitress gave me — a look that said, “If that wallet is so tattered, I hope this poor guy can pay for the meal!”

So, following the advice of Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, I thanked my faithful wallet for its long service and gently placed it in the trash. What made this whole wallet episode puzzling to people was the fact that I was given a brand-new wallet for Christmas . . . in 2017. Why in the world was I waiting to use it?

It’s probably the same compulsion that keeps me wearing my sacred undershirts — you know, the kind that’s “hole-y.” I have a package of brand-new ones that have been unopened for at least a year. I guess I’m waiting for the holes in my shirts to get big enough to drive a Volkswagen through before tossing them onto the rag pile.

This Lent, however, I’ve started to change my behavior, inspired by this little story told by Ed Rowell in “Parting from Tradition”:

Bayer Corporation has stopped putting cotton wads in its aspirin bottles. The company realized the aspirin would hold up fine without the maddening white clumps, which it had included since about 1914.

“We concluded there really wasn’t any reason to keep the cotton except tradition,” said Chris Allen, Bayer’s vice president of technical operations. “Besides, it’s hard to get out.” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)  

 “Dumping the cotton” has been a great phrase to inspire me to abandon my tradition of holding onto old, worn-out things, despite having new ones readily on hand to replace them. 

It’s been a great Lenten discipline so far. The etymology of the word “Lent” comes from the Old English “lencten,” meaning “springtime.”

Just as spring signifies new life and new growth in nature, so Lent for us Christians should signify new growth in holiness through our disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

I’m finding that my setting aside beat-up physical things and putting their new replacements to use has been a great symbol for me spiritually — the setting aside of old, sinful habits and making room for new, virtuous ones.

I’ve set about exploring the nooks and crannies of my home and have been stunned by all the treasures I’ve discovered — things I’ve forgotten I had, many of them brand-spanking-new.

These items have been shoved into the back of drawers, buried in the bottom of boxes or even hidden in plain sight. I’ve had to ask myself the unsettling question of why I thought it was a good idea to not use the “good” stationery, the comfy sheets, the unscratched pots and pans, or the expensive pen.

It’s been freeing this Lent to begin to use what I’d forgotten I had and to box up the old — but still good — items for a trip to a charity thrift store. This whole process has not only lightened my load of possessions, it’s lightened my spirit and heart as well.

I’m so grateful that there’s plenty of Lent left because I still have a long way to go. I’ve been inspired by a couple of posters, whose words I’ve copied. The first says: Use the nice china. Burn the candles. Wear the fancy clothes. Life is too short to wait for a special occasion.

The second poster continues that thought: Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Being alive is the special occasion.

So, what about you? Is there something new languishing among your possessions? What better time than today to dump the annoying cotton and start anew.

Oh, in case you’re wondering about my new wallet, I find that I’m making quite an “impression” on it. 

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