Back in the Day, not in the Day meaning the golden era of protest and social change, but back in the Day when I was younger and a more organized home-keeper, I dated a man who told me — not without some judgment and chagrin — that he could eat off my floors, they were so clean, and all was organized and tidy.
Not so now. In fact, there are places that have not seen pine cleaner in many (many) months, closets and cupboards that cry out for attention: cull me, scrub me, they beg as I throw them open in search of umbrellas or ground nutmeg — and then slam them shut.
There was a Day, a time when my holiday decorations got up before the third week in December and were down by New Years Day. Not so now. In fact, there is still an artificial wreath on my front door (another concession over the years to convenience and sloth) waiting for my attention. Take me down, it reminds me every time I turn the key in the lock, and store me properly, not shoved unprotected from the damp in the recesses of the basement, somewhere behind the rusting bicycles.
It was a very full and wonderful and chaotic holiday season here this year. Christmas Eve was a marvelous three ring circus, and things didn’t calm down much until the lovely and quiet Taize service on New Year’s Eve Day.
It was a very full and mostly wonderful and even more chaotic holiday season at home, with adult children visiting and Chinese meals, and shopping trips and lots of colliding schedules and agendas.
Being at home more than usual also meant more time to read all the world news, all the editorials, all the letters to the editor, and catch up on all the political periodicals that had been stacking up in my gym bag, each one more upsetting and agitating than the last.
By the end of all the visits, shortly before New Year’s, I was very frankly not feeling peace-able. No, that would not be the word I would use to describe my state of physical and emotional dis-order. Calm me, my inner voice weakly requested. Find a stillness.
It was a call made to a longtime friend and member of this congregation — she a practicing Buddhist — on New Year’s Day that finally got my attention. Got me my like a righteous whack on the right side of my brain, and brought forth my first poem in a long time, my first poem of 2007. It described how she told me that she had spent the first day of this new year cleaning up, getting prepared. How I had not even taken down my tree and with it favorite decorations from Tibet and Prague, but that I had cleaned out my spices: tossing two year old bay leaves and dried thyme, leaving a bottle of olive oil from Tuscany and an unremembered little jar of bourbon molasses mustard I had rescued from my father’s kitchen shelf before we moved him into assisted living, where he no longer even had a stove.
There it was — my path, my salvation. Just go down the list of all the neglected spaces in my own house: the spice cupboard, the junk drawer, and after that, the hall closet. Maybe even the attic with its rodent droppings or the spare room with its boxes and boxes of old greeting cards and back tax information.
After all, the Taoist prophet Lao-Tse tells us that before there is peace among nations and in the world there must be peace in the heart. And if cleaning our homes will make this happen, then so be it.
This return to domestic Goddess-ing: world peace through household order, lasted perhaps a week, probably less. And then the King Memorial holiday loomed again, with the usual (and necessary) run-up. The recitation of past injustices: racial injustices, gender injustices, and of course the ghosts of past wars, Vietnam in particular, which Dr. King deplored, telling us back in 1967 that we neither have peace within nor peace without, observing that Wisdom born of experience would tell us that war is obsolete. Urging us that if we are to have peace on earth our loyalties must be ecumenical, rather than sectional. That our personal and collective interests and our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation. No individual, he preached, can live alone, no country can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.
So on Monday, I put down my mop and bucket, abandoned my whining windows, the endless unfinished chores, all the potential candidates for mindfulness, and took to the streets. Me and two hundred other Unitarians, me and thousands of other Atlantans, called out by the news that in the face of 3,000 U.S. deaths in Iraq, 22,000 U.S. wounded, an estimated 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths — 34,000 last year alone — our president is asking for more military on the ground, 20,000 more women and men sent to kill and to die.
Me and the multitudes across the country — carried along by the need to shout: not one more death, not one more dollar. The people have spoken. Troops Home Now.
Teaching our children and our children’s children the old mantra: What do we want? Peace. When do we want it? Now.
We marched, we chanted, we sang the old songs — Down by the Riverside, I’ve Got Peace Like a River, We shall Overcome, We shall live in peace someday. Still only someday.
There is more of this ahead, because as Dr. King will not let us forget, we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of Destiny. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
There is still time to toss spices, wash windows, scrub corners.
Spring cleaning lies ahead.
May it be so.