We try to teach the children to clean their room and take care of their things, but let’s be honest. So much of our life fully and wholly lived takes place amidst the chaos of stuff. The music room before the Holiday Plays with sets and props and instruments strewn about, the desk overflowing with open books and papers in the midst of the writing project, the kitchen in a holy mess while the pots are bubbling, the oil splattering, the counters littered with peelings. And how can one get through a visit from the grandkids without stepping on Legos and finding forks in the bathtub and every piece of clothing dropped helter-skelter as if clues to a treasure map?
Poets write odes to dirty dishes and laundry left damp in the machine and while creativity seeks to set things in order, it seems to thrive on clutter and disarray, surround itself with tangled heaps of muddled confusion. Long live the untidiness, for there lies life in all its joyful cacophony!
And yet. Today, a hired housekeeper, my wife and I cleaned the cottage for four hours. Rolled up our sleeves and scrubbed and scoured and swept, , vacuumed in and leaf-blew out the dirt, the dust, the sand, cleaned out the entire refrigerator, shook the rugs, stacked the books and wasn’t that glorious? Yes, it was and yes it is and what a pleasure to walk barefoot on the deck without the grit of sand, to see the clean lines of table and counter surfaces, to proclaim with Montessori “a place for everything, everything in its place” and with Wendell Berry, “Order is the only possibility of rest.”
If life is meant to get us dirty, water is there to get us clean. And what is meditation but a cleansing of the mind? Gary Snyder’s Zen teacher’s succinct advice?
“Sit and sweep the garden. Any size.”
So yes to it all! The chaos, the order, the dirtying, the cleaning, the confusion, the clarity. Each in its turn. For now, a clean body, clean mind, clean cottage radiating out their shine.