June 26th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #523: “Among the great unwashed"

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama always looks really clean and tidy. I appreciate that in a president. Just as I hope he appreciates my daily letters.

Dear Mr. President,

As I loaded up to leave Florida after my latest sojourn in the south, I came across something that made me think. There in my hotel room was a little bar of soap with a wrapper that said, ever so cheerily, “Start your big day with clean hands!”

As a kid, like many of my pals, I was none too fond of the whole business of washing and scrubbing all the time. Seemed to me that the grime of playing in the farm fields, or hiking in the hills, or wrestling with my dog, or digging for crawfish, just added a nice, earthy flavor to an otherwise bland and predictable bologna sandwich.

But time and again, my relentlessly, surgically clean mother would greet me with a summer lunchtime chorus as regular as grace before the meal. “Good Lord, look at your hands! Go wash!” So I dutifully trekked to the bathroom, splashed around, and made sure to rub a little water on the soap just in case she checked. Like I said, back then I didn’t really understand adult society’s small minded and bigoted opposition to dirt.

Sorry, I’m getting off track. The moment I eyeballed that soap wrapper, I felt as if it were offering something more than just a throwaway marketing message. It spoke to me. (Well, not really, but figuratively) It was like a crop circle; a sort of “fortune soap” that I found both mystical and inspiring.

Think about the beginning: “Start your big day…” Now as far as the hotel staff knew it could have been a perfectly normal day for me. But the soap was like an encouraging little friend; patting me on the back and saying “Hey, you matter. Whatever you plan to do today, it’s a big day! Live it as if it might be your last!” It was at very least optimistic. The implication is that not only do you have a great day planned, but also that it is going to work out, especially if you wash up first. I mean the soap didn’t say, “Don’t expect anything special. Heck, if I were you I’d just crawl back in bed and weep.”

That little soap bar message also implied a degree of responsibility and a call for action.

This was no “let’s hope for the best” message. The soap made it plain that the recipient needed to get onto this business of washing up and right now. Dirty hands? Why of course your big day is going to tank! Wash up, m’lad!

But perhaps most of all, the soap spoke to the possibility of renewal. For me, it suggested that on each day, with the right attitude, the right effort, and the right tools, life can be started over. We can wash our hands of the previous day’s failures, mistakes, and miscalculations, and be open to all the wonders and possibilities of this, our new, big day.

Not a bad philosophy, especially considering its humble origin. I grabbed two of those soap bars to bring home as reminders, but I am happy to share if you want one. Just give me a call, and I’ll zip over with it.



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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.