I spent my weekend in productive manual labor. Between the shop vac, the mop, the dust rags, and my lungs, GRUG, I carted about 20 pounds of accumulated dust out of the basement.
These are days I love to hate. Ugh, I might say, flopping down on the couch, ALL I did today was clean the basement. I didn’t get anything DONE. I ignored my children, neglected my mind, cooked hurriedly and without relish. I was indoors all afternoon under less-than-salubrious conditions. A life can get sucked into this sort of absorption, and all kinds of better priorities can get misplaced. I vaguely mourn the books unread, the lush and incisive paragraphs unwritten, the complex soups unsimmered.
Still. There is a higher dimension to this type of labor. The very little I know of Zen Buddhism reminds me that sweeping, scrubbing, and similar tasks are considered spiritual exercises. Maybe it’s metaphorical: tackling a minute corner of the world’s mess (even though all I really did was rearrange it, sending the dust bucket by bucket into the flower beds outside and the trash out to the landfill on the prairie). Maybe it’s more direct: straighten and clean the exterior, and something internal straightens and settles down, too.
All I know for sure is that there are few things in life as satisfying as an object cleaned (with the exception of objects constructed, an activity that I engage in far less frequently and with much more mixed results). Yesterday morning when I finished up my coffee, the basement was a toxic mess of 40-year-old cobwebs, drywall remnants, sawdust, reverse drain residue and lingering insulation fibers. By the time I sat down to dinner, half was clean and usable. I spent my evening nipping over to the basement stairs to admire the well-wiped surfaces and dust-free toys. I went to bed feeling satisfied and tired.
The best thing of all about cleaning the basement, though? Once it's done, it'll be done for a good long time.