Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On my Knees (before Thanksgiving)

For three days I’ve been on my knees in the house of the Lord--my house that is—scrubbing, cleaning, waxing, sucking up dust that’s claimed whole rooms while my mind’s been far away, my heart in a trap.  I’ll get to where I’ve been in a moment.

An appraiser was coming to assess the value of my house.  I was refinancing my mortgage, determined to achieve the ever-elusive balance of financial stability. “Don’t worry about your appliances,” the appraiser said over the phone.  “I’ll be looking at the condition of the house—walls, floors—“

Walls and floors? Oh my.  

I stood in the kitchen and took a long view at what I had done.  This wood surface that I crossed daily to make coffee in the morning and tea at night was spotted and scratched with grit, its yellow pine worn out in patches. Individual floor boards were losing cartilage near the room’s most active points-- in front of the stove, sink and refrigerator.  For months, I’d ignored its diminishing condition, fading in the shadow of my neglect.

Dear kitchen floor, will you forgive me? I’m sorry that it took an outside force –a strange appraiser—to activate tending to your needs. 

I tied back my hair, put on holey jeans, and cleared the counter tops in preparation for cleansing. I filled a basin with soapy water and submerged a cloth—a piece of myself—into this bowl. I came up dripping, wrung out, ready for the task.

When I emerged, I found myself crouched in a corner where the kitchen floor and wall met at the far end of the room.  Where had I been, I asked myself?   --Wandering  in tunnels of family troubles?  Yes.  Squeezed between an ailing father, an exhausted mother, a teenage son struggling to find his path?  That’s right. Work worries, too.

As I scrubbed and rinsed, scrubbed and rinsed, muscles in my right shoulder and back awakened and hurt.   When my right side started to cramp, I switched to my left side, dunking and twisting the cloth to free old dirt, then applying it anew to the next section of floor, my wrist and finger joints pivoting, de-rusting from emotional paralysis.  

Some people run. Some people attack when life overwhelms.  I shut down.  Turn off.  Become numb.

Alone, with the November sky lighting the room, I bowed forward and pulled up, bending into malformed versions of Child’s Pose, then Downward Dog, then Child’s Pose again.  My right arm traversed narrow sections between walls.  At times,  my cloth-covered palm became a fist as I punched out emotional grime, reclaiming my base.  Life is hard, goddamn it.  Face it. Accept it. Move on.  

I crawled backwards, sliding on my shins toward the other end of the room.  When my knees began to throb, I folded a towel beneath me to soften the blow of bone, muscle, tendon, skin, blood against wood until my whole body succumbed to washing, and release.  


What person, event, thing, launched you out of a funk?


  1. Beautiful post, Jessica. I know the feeling so well of scrubbing out the anger, the sadness--Clorox and Xanex.

    And lecturing oneself on feelings. Awfully hard on ourselves we are.

    Happy Thanksgiving, J! xo

  2. Randy--I knew recognized a kindred spirit when I met you. Thanks for stopping by. Love your Clorox and Xanex--what a pair.

    I loved your your post today on Beyond the Margins:

  3. Love this, Jessica. I will often pick a room or a small area to "deep clean" when I feel completely overwhelmed or stuck. Murphy's Oil soap and Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap have become linked with release and relaxation for me.

    It's so fascinating that a small cloth or old toothbrush, a little soap, and some applied elbow grease can make anything clean.

    And now that we live on a small farm, one of my most favorite chores (and one that totally relaxes me) is mowing/mulching/harrowing the fields. I went out yesterday at noon and stopped at 4 - there is something about driving in squares and circles and figure 8s, leaving clean swathes of field, that restores balance.

  4. Billie,

    What a beautiful image of your fields, and the geometric shapes and your restored balance. Just lovely. I'm also amazed by how aware you are when you feel stuck and how you take action to get unstuck.

  5. This is the most beautiful thing I've read about the therapeutic nature of physical work. It actually made me want to wash the floor--not a common impulse. I'm also feeling inspired by Billie's toothbrush.

    As for me, chasing a two year old and sharing his every day wonder is a great antidote to my fits of Irish melancholy.

    Happy Thanksgiving, friend!

  6. Patry,

    Ha. Laughing.

    As for chasing a two-year old, you're right. It's as physically embracing as it gets. A young child demands that we step out of internal potholes. We can't run and chase when we're hiding in holes!

    Happy family time to you.

  7. I do laundry! I recognize the pain, the need to bring order to...well, something, and the amazing healing of physical work.

    Been there, done that, with my own family.

    Love Downward Facing Dog (although I hated it at first).

    A tip: My saving meditation, ironing (alone) on a Sunday morning with Prairie Home Companion on NPR.

    I send you hugs and understanding. :)

  8. Hi, Alpha.
    Your ironing story reminds me again of the wonderful writer, Tillie Olsen, and her short story: I Stand Here Ironing--
    Ironing-there's an interesting juxtaposition to it: the hot iron with its power and potential danger, and the comfort of clean sheets. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Beautiful, Jessica. Just recently discovered your blog and love your writing. I can so relate to this line, "Where have I been?" -- usually after coming up bleary-eyed from a writing project or a bit of a funk and always when company is coming. Suddenly, I see again. Dishes. Dust. Pet hair...There's nothing like expecting company to finally propel me into a cleaning frenzy.

  10. Sere,
    Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm glad you can relate to these forays of the mind. I suppose you are right about company propelling action at home. Maybe I need to pretend that an appraiser is coming more often?

  11. How beautiful. I love the way you weave together the themes of thanks, yoga, and tender, respectful regard toward the planks of wood -- formerly, perhaps still alive.

  12. This is truly an amazing piece of writing. When I read it, I got teary-eyed, because I know you so well and I was so in that scene with you. I just wish I were more like you, because if I could only take all of the energy I expend "thinking" about my problems and cleaned the house instead, I wouldn't have to have two weeks notice to prepare for visitors :)

  13. Amazing post Jessica!
    Who else can make us laugh about scrubbing floors? Reading this also inpired me to think about my neglected-blind- spots (messy desks) and avoidances (I'll probably just clean the desk) but think of you and this post.
    Thanks for the insights and inspiration.

  14. Gail--Thank you so much for your observations, and for taking time to comment. I'm grateful.
    Robin --You're sweet, and I like you the way you are.
    Joyce - I'm glad I made you laugh. -- 'twasn't pretty seeing me on the floor!

  15. When I read this is reminded me of the chapter on kashering your house for Passover in Blu Greenberg's "How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household." I wonder if some part of you wasn't getting ready for your father's passing.

  16. Beth,

    I don't know this book or chapter but now I will look for it. Thank you. And...what chills you gave me wondering if I was getting ready for my dad's death. On some level it seems the answer is yes.