A reader writes:
I am finally enjoying your book The Work of Mercy. Great stuff. As I was reading “clothe the naked,” it occurred to me that I have some thoughts which, if you think them worthy, might suit a later edition, a blog post, an article, an interview or speaking engagement, or some other means of communication regarding the corporal works of mercy.
I like that you tied clothes to human dignity. In a fallen world such as ours, clothes should express (even assert) and protect/defend the personhood of the wearer. (When I say “protect” I don’t just mean something like “against cold” but also “against indignities perpetrated by other people, such as lust.”) When we clothe the naked, we should have an eye on recognizing their intrinsic dignity as human persons and aiding their expression and fuller exercise of that personhood.
My thoughts turned to things that are not clothes as such, so we wouldn’t necessarily think of them right away in association with this work of mercy, but they are things which are *worn* by humans and enable them to better express and exercise their personhood.
The first is bandages. Not long after I taught myself to crochet I read an article in our diocesan newspaper about a group at a local parish that knits and crochets thread leprosy bandages for people in Vietnam. Hansen’s disease isn’t yet prevented and/or treated everywhere, at least not well, and people suffering the disease need good bandages. These handmade thread bandages last longer and work better for the users than storebought and gauze. The different textures created by knitting and crochet are both desirable. I decided to join in the local bandage-making efforts, too, and watched some biopics about St. Damien of Molokai for inspiration. It occurs to me that actions like this are a form of “clothing the naked,” even if we don’t think of these much-needed bandages as “clothing.” Here’s an example of a charity that makes bandages for folks in Vietnam, the Bandage Brigade.
The second is menstrual products. People don’t like to talk about them, and they’re not clothing per se, but they are a very important part of a woman’s life between menarche and menopause. Over here in the States, we tend to take them for granted. A wide variety of disposable tampons and pads are available relatively cheap at almost every grocery, pharmacy, and convenience store, and most public restrooms are outfitted for their disposal. We also have access to a variety of washable & reusable products, such as silicone menstrual cups and wonderful cloth pads. For most relatively healthy women, getting one’s period need not stop a woman from doing just about anything she wants to do– school, work, sports, whatever. But it’s not so everywhere. In some parts of the world, it can mean not being able to attend school or work for a few days each month. That’s a lot of lost education, income, and time for girls and women. Fortunately, some people are working to remedy this, too. I think this could be a very valuable example of “clothing the naked.” Days for Girls is one example of a charity that engages “First World” volunteers in a manner similar to the Bandage Brigade above.
(Speaking of the need for menstrual products, girls and women in impoverished nations aren’t the only ones who could use some help. A few years ago I visited a business that was collecting items for care packages to send to overseas troops. I wanted to help, so I looked around online to see what items troops might want or need. Apparently menstrual products are on the list.)
In a similar vein, there are charities that work to supply eyeglasses to people who may not be able to afford them!
I love that you thought of this. This is exactly the sort of cross-fertilization and creative thinking I hoped the book would spark. Thanks for your concern for those in need! Great ideas! If other readers have other ideas please share them in the comboxes!