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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cleaning house

“What’s that, Anna? You’ve written 800 words about cleaning and church? Why, you must be a RIOT at parties,” I hear you cry. “u sarcastic bitch”, I reply.

I am an untidy person. Whether this is nature or nurture, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m happy to let my entire floor disappear under strata of clothing before I finally decide to tidy. But when I clean, I clean HARD. And I think that has its roots in a church rota.

As a child, I was raised by my religious community almost as much as by my parents. I therefore spent a lot of time wandering around the church my family has attended since the 50s. My grandfather, as I understand it, was one of the founding Elders, and it had always felt like a home – just with more pianos and a higher ceiling.

Bethany Evangelical was (and still is, I’m sure) a community. We had rotas for everything: for flower arranging, music, sermons, the recording of said sermons onto countless cassette tapes... And, whether I liked it or not, my family and I were on the cleaning rota. I did not like it. Or, no, it was fun at first: up to about age 10, I loved running around the church in its off-hours, getting to know its every secret corner while playing hide and seek with our cousins. But playtime can’t last forever, and I was eventually expected to be useful.

As I got older, and more fiercely protective of my lie-ins, I started to resent the enforced early mornings. I’d never signed up for this, after all! How often do plastic chairs really need dusting, anyway? I’d waft a dustcloth around, spray furniture polish at things, and get frustrated by the total lack of difference it seemed to make. It was rubbish. I’d grumble, I'd slack off, I’d attend only out of duty - but I’d clean.

At that point in my life, I was a sincere, believing Christian. So I did what I always did when something frustrated me: I asked God why I should bother with any of this, and started feeling slightly guilty. Not in a bad “faith made me neurotic” kind of way (I've never wanted to blame religion for all the world's ills), just in a “maybe check your selfishness” kind of way. If I really wanted to honour God in word and deed, I reasoned (or He pointed out), maybe I should take a different approach.

That’s when I started cleaning in a completely different way. For some reason, there were long bamboo sticks in one of the church cupboards, or under the stairs. So I’d tie a dustcloth around the end of it, and brandish it like a magical extendo-rag to get dust out of all the hidden places. I’d stand on the balcony at the back and dust the slats on the blinds that were higher than any of us could reach. I’d dust the tops of doors. I’d dust the light fittings. I’d clean anywhere that nobody would see, that nobody would notice…. except for, if he happened to be paying attention, the omnipotent, omniscient deity with what I imagined to be a bird's-eye cross-section view of the building. Like in the Sims.

And if my parents complained that I wasn’t doing the hoovering, I could have a little theological chat from atop the moral high ground about who we were really doing this for. Oh, yeah, I was that insufferable.

I bring this up because it’s become part of my approach to cleaning, and I hadn’t noticed until recently. Why do I scrub the dirt out of woodgrain on the bannisters? Why do I wipe down the underside of shelves? Why do I clean the grime off lightswitches? (Well, because that’s where most of the germs are. But still!) I spent a day cleaning our tiny bathroom at home recently, using a rough sponge then a normal sponge then a dustcloth then a disposable dry duster. My housemate may do the washing up more often, but he doesn’t clean like this, does he? He doesn’t dust and sweep and polish every tiny crevice, does he? He doesn’t get on his knees and scrub with an old toothbrush at the gaps between the taps, does he?

Well, no, nor should he have to.

Maybe this is not a normal thing to expect of someone.

Perhaps, thinking about it, I am a bit manic about these things.

And now, with God no longer in my personal picture, who am I really doing this for? I don’t know. I just like to. My room may still be an absolute tip, but the bases of our shampoo bottles are clean, and I’ll be happier sooner if I accept that my housemate will never notice or care, and that I shouldn’t expect him to. But for some reason, that’s how I operate: If I’m going to do housework, I’m going to do it to an almost unreasonable degree, as a passive-aggressive jab at a callous universe that still sometimes makes me get up earlier than I’d like.

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
-          Matthew 5:41, NIV.

2 comments:

  1. You always surprise me (in a good way) and in this particular blog post, you have got me thinking. It makes me realise how much I miss talking to you in person, as I would have a love to chat with you in more depth what you have written.

    This was also a trip down memory lane - some good emotional memories. Anyway, now is not the time.

    For now, I would like to ask you one question: what made you choose Matthew 5:41?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! I'm glad I can surprise you, after all these years, though I suspect the biggest surprise is that I updated my blog for the first time in ages! :$ I miss you too. Fleeting visits and brief conversations when I'm back home really don't cut it. How about you come visit this summer? I'd love to show you around.

      That verse strikes me as the very definition of passive-aggression. I rarely read the bible any more, but it's so fitting for the rest of the post. That was my attitude: if you're going to make me do something, I'm going to OVERdo it!

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