I have been working on a spiritual exercise using a small book entitled “A Simple Life-Changing Prayer” by Jim Manney. One morning several weeks ago, after working Steps 1,2 and 3 (taken from St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen) I had a revelation. The questions I had to ask myself that morning were “What are you good at? What is your gift? And What gives you complete fulfillment where you are engaging in it?” Well the obvious answers for me should have been “writing” and “creating web pages,” since these are two of my favorite things to do. But that is not what came to my mind on this particular morning. Instead I answered “I love cleaning. Not regular house cleaning, but the deep transformative cleaning of a space. The kind of cleaning that restores a room or home to its original beauty and purpose.” And this is exactly what I had been doing. For the last month I have been cleaning and restoring, one wall, one room, one space at a time. I have been giving life to a house that was in desperate need; climbing up and down a ladder with a bucket of hot soapy bleach water, sponge, rags and towels in hand, sporting rubber gloves and a do rag on my head. I sloshed away the brownish yellow nicotine film off walls and ceilings. I scrubbed tubs and tiles and floors until they were bright and shiny. I cleared out trash, swept, mopped and removed mold and mildew. I painted woodwork, doors, window facings. I scrubbed all the kitchen cabinets and painted the doors, and lined the shelves. I cleaned all the windows in each room. And as I worked the sweat dripped off my nose, my face itched and my eyes burned from the chemicals. But strangely I felt nothing but good. I was exhausted by the time I stopped for dinner each day. My legs and knees ached all night. My shoulders and neck gave me heck for making them do things they haven’t done in 20 years. But at the end I felt nothing but satisfaction. And each night I slept like the dead.
Before you get an image of me as the lone martyr in this drama, let me tell you that I was not working alone. The house is a family home (my husband’s parents lived there and later some other family members), that needed to be restored so it could be sold. My husband, Joe, was there with me and he did a lot of cleaning and most of the painting. Joe’s brother and his son came over and helped out quite a bit. The men did a lot of the heavy stuff, “man things” like replacing toilets and vanities and laying plank flooring and installing a new garage door and fixing leaks and much more. So I did what I knew how to do. Clean.
As for my strange euphoria while I was in the throes of this steamy hell with soapy water running down my arms, I believe it was an epiphany of sorts. As St. Ignatius learned, we can know ourselves best by examining how we feel and what memories surface during any particular endeavor. If doing a certain tasks causes you stress, or makes you feel useless, then it is probably not for you. If something brings you peace or makes you feel good, then examine that and listen to your inner voice. What is coming up?
For me, it was my childhood home. While I was scrubbing the walls and floors in the small cramped washroom, a memory of the washer by the sink in my mother’s kitchen came to mind. The area behind and beside the washer was piled with dirty, moldy stinky clothes and other assorted junk.
Now I am finally able to clean out that wash room, the one I could do nothing about as a child. When I scrubbed the tubs and tiles in the bathroom, and painted the walls and hung the new mirror, I was bringing back to life the little bathroom with the claw foot tub that served a family of 13 for over 30 years. The kitchen cabinets, disinfected, painted, lined with decorative paper is my way of reclaiming the filthy kitchen I had to deal with any time I wanted to fix myself something to eat after school. I was powerless then, now I have the power. I even had an image of Wonder Woman in the last big battle scene in the recent movie. She advances into battle, head down, shield in front, forging through bullets and fire, overcoming the enemy. Nothing can stop her. She is victorious and powerful and so am I.
For those who may not know my history, my mother suffered from undiagnosed depression and social anxiety disorder. She also had difficulty throwing things out, organizing or cleaning. Because of her beliefs she had 13 children, (2 died at birth). So I do not blame her. She loved us and did the best she could. But as a result of the condition of our home, we all felt shame, a shame that I did not realize I was still carrying, a shame I had not dealt with. And because I was given this awesome opportunity to renew and give life and spirit to a house that was sad and sick I too feel renewed and healed. I feel lighter and free of the old shame.
My husband and his brother and nephew all said they felt like they were doing this work for their parents / grandparents. They too were blessed by the gift of restoring. And as we all worked, we instilled the house with love. We brought in the light and sent all negative energies and unholy emotions that may have been lingering, away. Darkness is always overcome by light. On the last day we sprinkled holy water in each room and in every corner. We prayed and said our goodbye. We know our job is complete and we pass this now beautiful home on to it’s next family.
Epilogue: The house has been completely restored and was put on the market Friday Aug. 18th We have a tentative buyer at the time of this post.