In my shower, I keep a bottle of Gilette Cool Wave shower gel. It sits comfortably on that metal rack that hangs from my showerhead, an inverted carbon-grey triangle that stays there next to whatever other shower gel I actually use. I bought my last lot of it in Hong Kong about 3-4 years ago, and as far as I can tell, it never took off, and is relegated to a handful of Gilette’s foreign markets.
I also keep a few bottles of Axe body spray in the drawer to the left of my sink, none of which are less than 10 years old. The Axe Energy one, purchased in Manila in the summer of 1999, is now pretty much empty, having left nothing but the faint scent of what was and still remains the finest fragrance I’ve known. In other markets, it was known as Lynx Atlantis. It thankfully preceded the early 2000s marketing push that turned Lynx/Axe into the fragrance of choice for sexist “bros” worldwide–well, in America and Europe. It, too, was unceremonially discontinued and left in a handful of Unilever’s foreign markets. If you’ve seen it anywhere in the last ten years, let me know.
I save them, I ration them, I keep them through new stages in life, new homes, new circumstances. The Gilette only gets used on special occasions, leaving me feeling dry and yet astonishingly content, far beyond what one could hope out of a shower gel. The Axe…well, at least Africa/Kilo is still alive and well. The special occasions for which I used it never actually turned out that special. But it still makes me smile when I have occasion to unscrew that cap and think of what memories the day might bring.
There was a period where I tried using the shower gel as a regular thing, a daily comfort that slowly reduced itself to the mundane. I could enjoy it, yes, but I could not appreciate it. It was just a shower gel, albeit a good one. I was no longer aware that it was rare, that it was finite, that it was…special.
If you’re feeling flippant right now, I give you the permission to, quite legitimately, call it exactly that: a cheap bottle of shower gel. C’mon. Go a step further and recognize that I’ve just spent four paragraphs giving you a history of my toiletries, spent four paragraphs writing about it with such nostalgia that I can’t not recognize its irresistible invitation to mockery. Hooray! If I have, I’ve succeeded. You may graduate to better works of satire, like George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” or Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation”.
And yet lately, I’ve been thinking about why, exactly, I’ve held onto those bottles of shower gel, of deodorant. They’ve been through twelve different homes, three different academic degrees, high times, low times, confusing times. When I use them, they feel special. They carry with them the memories of past moments, albeit simmered down to faint impressions of how those moments felt. They have, still yet, so much quality to them that I can appreciate them for exactly what they are in the present. And by the pleasure that they grant in those present moments, they speak of what may come on these occasions, these events that I’d held in such prestige to warrant using special items for their sake. I get a sense of peace as I open those bottles and get reacquainted with my foreignly familiar scents, feeling the past, living the present, imagining the future.
…today I was talking with a friend about the Christocentric view of the Old Testament, the ways in which all those tales that we read for their supposed morality actually speak directly to the significance of the savior, to the necessity of his coming, to the preciousness of his promise. And amidst the intellectual discussion, amidst what really counted as a literary analysis, I felt my voice waver ever so slightly: invoking the gravity of the gospel so many, many years later, I found that it still had the capacity to compel *me* as I talked about it, well after all my days of jumping along to music with fellow teenagers in a basement on Saturday night, well after all the contemplation in those seasons where a god above was a god unknown, well after getting older and wiser…what had seemed elegantly simple so many years was now subtly elegant, a story that had become far richer, far more nuanced, and yet had never strayed from its fundamental promise that the world was rescued at great cost, by great love, to instill great hope for the kingdom that is to come.
Shower gel christianity…to recognize and testify to what is precious, no matter how pedestrian the rest of the world may assume it is.