In any Walgreens or supermarket, there are aisles and aisles of products labeled for personal hygiene. What is that, exactly? Hygiene: such a sanitary, boring word. Its roots, though, are not at all fussy. It’s from an ancient Greek phrase, hygieine techne, “the healthful art,” which grows from hygies, “healthy,” which meant simply living well, having a vigorous life. This was personified as the goddess Hygieia. Traditionally, she is pictured offering a drink of water to a snake, the symbol of healing. But here and now, Hygieia would be selling antiperspirant/deodorant and breath pills and would certainly keep a few paces between herself and any germ-ridden zoo animal. Hygiene has become a euphemism for don’t be stinky, a guilt trip used by the cleansing product industries.
But if we must have hygiene, even in its current incarnation, aren’t there more important kinds than personal? Raise the bar at least to public hygiene. Handwashing, for starters, but also courtesy, the awareness of each one’s status as not quite the center of the universe. And how about global hygiene, Hygieia’s holy strike against unbecoming mountaintop removal, smog, and oil puddles in the oceans? This would, of course, necessitate institutional, corporate, and governmental hygiene… those messy wars, those untidy balance sheets, those, shall we say, negatively aromatic correctional facilities. So someone bring some Mountain Rain Scented Wipes and let the healing begin.