Growing up, my mother and I would reenact the same ritual every Tuesday and Thursday morning:
Mom: Stacey. Go clean your room. Ann [our housekeeper] is coming.
Me: Silence. Incomprehension. Clean my room before the housekeeper could do it for me? What? You cannot be serious! (All this totally inside my own head. I never bothered to respond out loud, as the suggestion was so ludicrous.
And every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I would look around the mess of my room, go to school, and come back to a room that was clean-- bed made, clothes hung or folded, depending, things dusted. It would smell of Pine Sol and bleach. I thin k. At least, those are the smells I associated with Ann's days at our house.
This went on for years and years. It never changed: I'd make a mess; Ann would clean it up.
When I moved into my first apartment, I called my mother: "Ok, mom," I said, "I have a toilet bowl brush and it didn't come with instructions. How does it work." She must have laughed a good five minutes. Sadly, she was with a group of her friends, playing bridge when I called. They laughed as long and as loud as mom.
"But you never taught me! When did I ever have to clean a toilet?" I didn't come close to understanding her amusement. I just thought my embarrassment was all her fault. Of course, at eighteen, what wouldn't have been my mother's fault?
I am no longer eighteen. Thank God. I can't imagine ever being that young, that innocent and naive and world-weary, all at the same time. I have since learned a lot about cleaning: I make my own bed most mornings. Do the dishes. Dust occasionally. Pick up after my son (and tell "Clean your room; Mariola is coming today."). While cleaning the house is not on my top 1,000 things I'd like to do, I do it anyway, because it needs to be done.
My house: mostly clean. If not scrubbed and shiny, then not embarrassing. If company dropped by unexpectedly, I would be able to invite them in. This was not always the case. There have been days (weeks) (I'm pretty sure not months, but who's counting?) where the mess was barely contained within the confines of my home. Sometimes, not contained at all. Was I the only one with a "magic closet," that could just as easily turn into a "magic bedroom?" While the "public rooms" of the house were neat(ish), the closet/bedroom was more of a war-ravaged mess or a pillager's treasure trove, depending upon your perspective.
And I knew, without a doubt, that my life and my mess were connected. The more chaotic my life, the more it went spinning out of control, the more chaos at home. I prided myself, at times, that at least I could find a place to sit for me and a friend or two. That I couldn't open certain doors was a secret I thought I'd carry to the grave. (So much for secrets.)
The prompt for today is "Clean." I love that there is no further direction or instruction. I started this essay thinking I would write about the cleaning necessary for Passover-- the cabinets and dishes and pantries-- transformed, shifted, cleaned. But I cannot write about what I don't do. And I do not clean for Pesach. I think about it. I flirt with the idea of keeping kosher l'pesach-- as much as I flirt with the idea of keeping kosher. Period.
They are interesting. lovely thoughts. They are rife with spiritual nuance. I don't do 'em. As for why-- that is fodder for another essay altogether. Maybe. Maybe I'll even do it this year-- the kosher for Pesach thing, the cleaning and scrubbing and transforming thing, and I will (I'm sure) (and I say that with no cynicism or sarcasm whatsoever; I really am sure) find something rich and meaningful and holy in those actions.
But remember-- no direction, other than that the prompt is "Clean." So I go where I always go, in these cases, which is where I want to go: cleaning my mental and spiritual house. Cleaning my insides, scrubbing and polishing and transforming and renewing, all the inside stuff. That is part of this journey, just as much as switching dishes and removing chametz from my house.
There is something incredibly powerful in diving a little deeper, shining the light a little brighter, coming clean-- really clean. Know thyself-- but not just know. Know yourself so well that you can forgive yourself your humanity, unlock the chains that keep you tethered and enslaved-- the pain and the grief and the shame, ask forgiveness of those you've harmed, and strive to do it differently, do it better, do it right as you put one foot in front of the other.
And when I can do this-- clean the house of my spirit-- there is such light, such joy! Once we were slaves; now we are free.
c Stacey Zisook Robinson
06 April 2014