By Janice Lindsay
With good intentions and delusions of future ambition, I compiled a list of household chores I should complete before summer arrives. This spring-cleaning checklist included hopeful, practical commands like “Wash mudroom floor,” “Clean refrigerator,” and “Polish furniture.” Then I promptly accomplished the one task that seems most appropriate for such a demanding list. I lost it.
I did not intend this outcome, but I did not regret it. For the list did not say, “Listen to the birds. Smell the sweet spring air.” It did not say, “Go for a walk. Study neighbors” gardens.” It did not say, “Observe dragonflies.” Or “Find that special spot in the woods and search for jack-in-the-pulpits.”
The cleaning list's basic message was: “Be productive. Accomplish something. Achieve.” Listening attentively to nature, smelling deeply, carefully observing ??” the practical world doesn's generally view these as achievements.
The world of the spirit, of course, has quite a different definition of “achievement.” The spirit, somewhat critical, asks: “At the end of your life, will you really regret that you did not spend more time sweeping dead bugs off the attic floor?” (I sort of enjoy the world of the spirit.)
However, because the spirit inhabits a human body, it must sometimes turn its attention to the practical matters of household dust and dead bugs.
I accidentally found my spring-cleaning list.
The practical problem with spring cleaning is this: In pleasant weather, I long to be outside. When it's gray and rainy, there's no point in trying to clean because it's too dark inside to see the dust.
But sunny days are good for window-washing, at least; I can enjoy the outside and Accomplish Something at the same time. So I'se managed to wash a few windows. The other items on this stubborn, accurate list await my attention.
But there are two spring cleaning challenges that don's even make the list. Those are the most difficult to accomplish, even harder than scrubbing the deck.
The first of these challenges arises at the startling, occasional moment when I look around our house and see it as a stranger might. I suddenly realize: Look at all this stuff! Do we really need all this stuff? Let's get rid of some stuff!
Easier thought than achieved.
Consider these books. I could give some away. But how can I be absolutely sure that I will never again want to read my old textbook on “Major British Writers”?? Or refer to the old version of? “Birds of North America” even though I have a newer version?
Consider these knickknacks. Donate them. What? Give away the clay toucan I bought in Peru? Or the candy-cane-pattern scented candle I never burn because I don's like scented candles, but that I keep because it's pretty?
So our stuff remains safe for yet another year.
But the biggest challenge of all is to clear the clutter out of my brain. Jettison old self-defeating ideas. Toss out the dusty fear that I can's set up my own computer system if I buy a new laptop; stop panicking because my reliable consultant just retired. Toss the dread that some day I might fail to think of something to write about. Trash the fruitless terror that some family crisis might arise and I won's know what to do about it.
But I see that these brain-sweeping challenges bring me closer to the world of spirit and farther from the world of dust and bugs. These tasks are best accomplished while I's in repose on the deck, enjoying bird-song and the sweet spring air.