So, I’ve been cleaning houses and there’s been a lot of hidden lessons in it all. First, I think there’s something to be said for manual labor. I will admit that it’s embarrassing to be doing something so well for someone that I cannot manage to do for myself in any real way, shape or form, but what is it? “Those who cannot do, teach?”
There’s getting past the idea that this in itself should be something to be looked down upon, something to be ashamed of. Cleaning floors and toilets. But I always promised myself that I would never be beneath an honest day’s work. At least in theory, right? I don’t ever want to think that I’m above anyone who is doing a job. That’s always what’s so hilarious (and been pointed out 1,000 times) about the idea that illegal immigrants “are taking away American jobs.” Really? You want to be a migrant farm worker*? A busboy? A housekeeper? Want to drive a taxi for 12 hours straight? The list goes on. Those jobs always seem to be the most dangerous, the least comfortable, and pay the worst salaries. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t offering up sweet bennies.
Cleaning houses is definitely a moving meditation. While I’m getting down on some grimy door handle or spotting a new area of dust I previously hadn’t noticed, my mind is allowed to wander without my permission. I start thinking about things that have been bothering me, I ruminate over the state of the world today. But much like any sort of meditation, once all the monkey mind stuff has shuffled through, and I’m focused on a bathtub or the mindless motion of filling up a dishwasher, my front mind gets quiet and I start to hear answers that I didn’t know I was looking for. I start to realize things I didn’t know I needed to hear. I start to come to conclusions in those still quiet moments. Sometimes, they are epiphanies with depth and weight, and I carry them with me out of the house and into the world. Sometimes, like dust to the garbage can, they are fleeting and I can’t remember them once they’ve crossed through my mind. I think “I need to blog that,” or “I should tweet that one,” but unless I do, I find I can’t quite get a grasp on that thing I thought was so revelatory and wonderfully important. Maybe it was just to remind me, plant a seed, and it’ll come back around again with another house cleaning.
Something I hadn’t anticipated before I started cleaning houses was the give and take of the cleaner-client relationship. The moment I started, I realized how delicate it is. I’ve worked for presidents and vice-presidents of companies. I’ve worked in doctor’s offices. I’ve heard secrets from friends. I’ve cut payroll checks and I’ve been the hub of gossip, taking things in, but not letting things out. So, it’s not a big deal for me to keep things to myself and maintain a strict code of confidentiality without anyone having to tell me so.
I’m also really hard to shock. My whole life, I’ve been a truth magnet; people have been drawn to me to tell me their secrets; admit things they normally wouldn’t; and tell me things that they think other people couldn’t handle, things they were embarrassed or ashamed of. I just am not really too bothered or flustered by things other people get up in arms over — sex, money, politics, religion, drugs, rock and roll. While I might be walking down the street in silent judgment of everyone I see — “I’m fatter than her,” “He’s richer than me,” “She thinks she’s better than me,” — when it comes down to brass tacks, if you want someone who won’t judge you for your personal life, I’m a pretty safe bet. Or at least, I’m not going to run and tell the world.
So, it occurred to me that the people that I cleaned houses for and I were in some sort of silent contract above “this is what you will clean and when you will come over” and all of that. I would clean and take care of them — move things and not throw anything away that wasn’t 100%, absolutely, positively garbage, not reveal anything personal I might come across to anyone else (I get referrals from friends, you know), not judge them by how clean or messy anything was. I was just coming to be of service, to make life a little easier, to help things run a little more smoothly. It makes the prospect happier all around, I think. A little more abracadabra. It’s house magic.