I’ve never felt happier to sweep the floor. I’ve put it off for weeks and weeks. Shiny hardwood keeps secrets better than most surfaces, and what gracious guest would ever complain? Still, my eyes were drawn to the places where the dust bunnies congregate. Corners can be ugly, honest places.
There are seasons in all lives when cleanliness becomes a tall order. When I came home each day exhausted and sore, I’d lie on my heating pad and look with bafflement at the accumulating debris of my life. How can I generate so much dirty laundry? How have I stacked up such a pile of dishes? Surely I’m not sailing fast enough to leave a wake. It seemed like a cosmic injustice that a weakened person should require as much upkeep as someone in perfect health.
A couple weeks ago, when the floors were still dirty, I snapped photos of my paper whites in their colored bowl. They craned their pretty faces toward the sunlight as it moved from window to window. I felt determined to learn the lesson they were teaching. They started their lives as homely bulbs, after all. To break out of my own dark state, what could I do but turn toward the light?
I gathered what little energy I could muster and followed suit. Honestly, it’s what I’ve always done in the midst of difficulty. When I first taught middle school and half my students treated me like the inexperienced hack I was, I jotted thank you notes to the ones who bothered to behave. When I went through my divorce, I wrote long letters to the important teachers of my childhood. This time around, I recommitted myself to journaling each day. Doing these things never feels noble. It feels desperate. There’s got to be good here, I say to myself. If I don’t ferret it out I’ll go crazy.
The paper whites need water as much as they need sun. I’ve been drinking down wisdom like a woman possessed.
There’s Rumi, whose words drew me back to my writing practice:Work. Keep digging your well. Don’t think about getting off from work. Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.
There’s Richard Rohr: Your false self is your role, title, and personal image that is largely a creation of your own mind and attachments. It will and must die in exact correlation to how much you want the Real. The past few months have felt a lot like dying, so I’ve clung hard to the notion that something Real is on the other side.
Then there’s Caroline Myss, whose writing in Anatomy of the Spirit prompted me on Monday to write a letter to an old friend, a confession I’d been putting off for months. That night I lay in bed and felt energy coursing back into my body.
I came home from school on Wednesday and took the broom in my hand. When you’ve been waiting in a dark place, all the ordinary tasks of life take on an inaccessible luster. Give me dirt and dishes and compost. Give me a shower to scrub and the mending I’ve been putting off.
I turn toward the light and I put forth my roots. My hips seem to be healing. Is it possible? Is it true? Meanwhile the paper whites have grown too tall for their bowl. I move them to prosaic plastic, the pitcher I use in summer for iced tea.
They stop following the sunlight around the room. They stop slurping up new water. The first of the blossoms begin to shrivel. I’m already wondering, What’s next? How soon will I be able to go back to power yoga? When will I need to dump these flowers on the compost heap?
But I stop. I take another cue from the paper whites, who know nothing of planning or posturing. I sit here beside them on a sunny Saturday afternoon, breathing in the fragrance.