Every day the counters are dirtied. Every night the bed is unmade. In dark seasons I can’t keep up, and I become Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the hill only to watch it roll down again.
No matter the season, I take comfort in doing the laundry. The hum of the washer; the warmth of intermingled fabrics fresh from the dryer; the smoothing and folding and putting away.
I recently heard a wonderful interview with Ann Hamilton, an artist who prefers to be called a maker. Among other profound things, she said that “textiles are a body’s first house,” which made me wonder how far back my love of the laundry goes. My mother, not famous for her homemaking skills, enjoyed doing the laundry so much that she didn’t share the chore with us. I wonder if her mother felt the same way.
This summer I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and learned origami-like folding patterns. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I suspect that the satisfaction of beautifying my t-shirt drawer helped pull me through the depression I’d been slogging through.
The seasons change, and in the dark of this December my heart is filled with light. If I’m not mindful, I might start thinking my ease and joy should last forever. I might grasp hold of them and get scared when the horizon begins to darken.
Thank God for the chores that ground me to the earth. The compost bucket wants emptying; the cat’s litter box calls out to be cleaned. David and I do the dance of the dishes. This big old farmhouse offers comfort and complication in equal measure.
Pushing the boulder up the hill was Sisyphus’ punishment for outwitting Death. At times I become Sisyphus, believing myself exempt from the laws of ordinary living. I push myself toward perfection. My dreams balloon to unwieldy proportions.
Then I notice how dirty the floors have become. Then I take up the broom or haul out the vacuum. I will never achieve perfection in homemaking. So long as I live, there will be meals to cook and socks to launder.
I begin to view my chores as spiritual practices. Dusting can be a meditation; scrubbing the toilet can be an offering. Perhaps no one else will ever see my underwear drawer, but its order gives me pleasure. When I pull the clothes from the dryer, may I be fully present for the event. If I actually feel the knife in my hands as I slice the vegetables, perhaps I’ll actually taste the meal I’ve made.
Breathing in and breathing out; creating and cleaning up: the rhythms of the mundane call for my attention, even my awe. May I slowly come to see that no task is beneath my heartfelt effort. Sisyphus received his task as punishment, but I can receive mine as blessing. This chore, this home, this day is not something to slog through. This chore, this home, this day is my life.