Spring cleaning, empty boxes and filling them with care

Spring cleaning, empty boxes and filling them with care
Image credit: GetStencil.com

I have never washed the windows from the outside of my house. Half of them even fold over on the inside, for easy cleaning — which I just realized while editing this.

I’ve never dutifully scrubbed the soap scum from the sides of the tub — I just spray on some Clorox Clean-Up and hope for the best.

But I promise, I’m not the world’s messiest person. I’ve always loved to “spring clean” my house, and this year it’s taken on a whole new meaning — post-divorce, in my book spring cleaning feels mandatory.

Our split was mostly amicable, so my ex-husband still has some of his stuff at my place. And although it kind of drives me nuts, I’m not packing too many boxes for him, because it’s flooding me with memories of something that happened long ago — with my two college roommates and a boy from Peru.

Things did not end well at 5750 Turin St.

It was right before my ex had proposed, second semester senior year — for me only. I was graduating a semester early, finishing an unpaid internship and getting ready to start life in the Real World of resumes, job interviews, stuffy suits and domesticity. Plain and simple, none of that meshed well with the life my friends continued to lead — one of house parties, smoking pot, live music festivals and Taco Bell. To make matters worse, no one really took to my boyfriend-cum-fiance like I did: he helped me quit smoking, which was great, but he was also terribly afraid that the cops were going to show up and deport him if we had people over on a Friday night and made too much noise. He single-handedly pulled me up and out of that lifestyle, of waking up smelling like beer and Denny’s and not remembering exactly what happened the night before, but — without saying as much — everyone around me seemed to resent that. My roommate’s Peruvian friend taped a note to the wall in our entryway: “CASA QUEBRADA.” A house divided.

It wasn’t long before my best friend and roommate and I were barely speaking or even acknowledging the other was alive. And before I could finish the sentence “I think it would be best if you found another place to live,” she told me she was moving to a unit near a mutual friend.

Things got ugly. And I admit to my hand in the matter, because it’s what’s coming up for me again now: I kinda sorta maybe started getting some of her stuff together to help speed up the move.

I would take her CDs out of my carrying case and lay them on the kitchen table, with books and stray socks and papers that weren’t mine. I probably took some of her posters down from our shared bedroom walls, half in an honest attempt to help her — it was clear that none of us were able to communicate with words — and half in a surge of passive aggression.

It all felt terrible and dirty. My roommate and I had known each other our entire lives, but it was like everything that was happening was a giant ball of string unwinding downhill fast. None of us had the emotional maturity to stop, question, and carry on in an adult manner. Was is all moving too quickly? Yes. Was it big and scary and overwhelming for everyone? Yes. But did anyone have the balls to stop and say that? No. It wasn’t even a question of “What can we possibly do now?” — it was more like Hands on Hips, No Looking Back. Our egos were driving the train to crazy town, and I put the pedal to the floor.

So flash forward to now — when the relationship that arguably caused all this turmoil to begin with has finally come to an end — and you can see why I’m treading lightly when it comes to packing boxes. Is this the lesson? I find myself wondering. Try not to push the river. Where did I read that phrase? 

Apparently it’s a Chinese proverb: “Don’t push the river; it flows by itself.” But that doesn’t quite feel like the end.

I know I can’t make time pass any more quickly than 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. I believe — even taking “free will” into account — God or destiny or whatever your word du jour is has already laid a plan for me. So what is the point here? Why do I feel like this situation is re-playing itself in my life, this time on a grander scale, this time with seemingly so much more at stake? Because life lessons do that: They present themselves to you, over and over, taking on a different form until you’ve found your way. And I have welcomed that with open arms. “Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know,” reads a small scrap of paper I keep in my office. But I’m starting to think we don’t always know what we’re learning.

What I’m beginning to understand is that it’s not about the lesson but about how you handle it. Because any situation, big or small, can be met with anger or trust. Anything coming at you, you can receive with fear or with grace. And no matter what you think you’re learning — or even if you’re sure you’ll never learn — the answer doesn’t come in the lesson. It reveals itself through what comes next.

This spring, I’m seeing, I’m not putting things on tables and watching years of life unravel. I am lifting and placing gingerly, with care, as if everything I touch is fine china, because no matter the history, and no matter the consequences, all of this is sacred. And do I wish I could have known that in college? Sure. But is all of that pain and anguish serving me now? Of course it is.

That is the lesson. Regardless of context, all of this is sacred. Be nice. Show love. Stay open; don’t close. Whether you’re spring cleaning your living room or feeling like the contents of your heart are being shaken and strewn about, exercise caution in how you take things apart and put them back together again. Attend to all the places that seem overcrowded or overlooked. After all, boxes often don’t stay empty — we’re always filling them with something. And how you fill the box is just as important as its contents.

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Filed under: Chasing peace, Family

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