I love to clean house, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes me feel in control of something. Today, though, I’ve been in a frenzy of dusting, scrubbing, mopping, sweeping and vacuuming. This is because I am going on a trip. Not even a long trip, just a short four-day road trip to Virginia. But every time I go away, I am struck with a compulsion to clean my house from top to bottom.
I have so many other, much more important things to do before I leave, such as straightening out my files to prepare my tax returns. No way. So as I’m scrubbing, I’m thinking, why am I doing this? I think I finally figured it out.
The obvious reason is that if anything happens to me when I am gone--like I’m run over by a Mack truck or I have a stroke or something nice like that--then no one will come into my house and think, gee, what a slob. This is a household variant of the Nice Underwear Rule. (Remember? You have to wear nice underwear whenever you go out in case you end up in the emergency room and a doctor has to see you undressed.) If your floors shine and your sinks are spotless, people who come in to settle your estate and take your books will think you lived a spotless life.
So what’s with the intimations of mortality? Forget that--what’s with the constant dread that something bad is going to happen? That’s where the childhood stuff finally got knocked loose this morning, somewhere along with the mold stuck to the bottom of the shower door. As little girls, every night before we climbed into bed, my sisters and I had to kneel and say our prayers. One line always struck fear into my heart: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” What a thing for a child to fall asleep thinking about. The dread, the anxiety, the possibility--no, the likelihood, so real that people wrote prayers for children to recite, to ward off the complications that would attend death. No wonder falling asleep can become problematic.
Sunday school gave me no end of troubles, I remembered as I was cleaning. The Virgin Mary? Well, if that could happen to her, did that mean it could happen to me? To my sisters? My girlfriends? And my parents would never believe me, if I woke up pregnant, and told them I had had nothing to do with it. On it went. Much of religious teaching is tricky for young, overactive imaginations.
And that’s why I am cleaning house. Because I will die before I wake, someday, and I want to make sure that my soul can travel lightly, without having to look for a mop.