Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Tom Sawyer Cure

There’s a piece of paper on my desk – it’s in limbo, waiting till it gets put in its proper place – it’s been there for a while, but maybe this post means it can finally move on – anyhow, this is what it says:
So I’ve been a little sad. Maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the post-event letdown of the end of the Chilkoot Trail, maybe it was my second-ever-in-my-life bout with the common cold which meant I missed a weekend camping trip. Mostly, it’s still not knowing what my real “what’s next” is. Who knows? Sadness just descends.

Then it sits around for a while, feeling its own misery.

Into this black hole came a request from Lori: volunteers needed to deep clean the classrooms and office of the Alaska Literacy Program. My thoughts on hearing this:
  • I may be useless, but I know how to clean
  • I may feel lonely, but there’ll be other people there
  • It beats sitting home and feeling worse
  • It supports the Literacy Program and is a good deed
  • I get to write it on my calendar and have some place to be, something to do
If, in the midst of my sadness, I’d contemplated deep cleaning my own house, I’d fall deeper into the black hole. But to deep clean usefully, with other people, as a mitzvah: that was a glimmer of light.

And yes, it’s true: “It’s very hard to be sad and useful at the same time.”

So, on our team (Hooray, I was part of a team!), Polly, Jim, and I washed walls. The only time I wash walls is to repaint them, and that was a long time ago. But I had my favorite kind of scrubbing tool and walls in front of me.
We chatted about hiking and bicycling and uphills and downhills. Jim did windows and furniture; Polly did vacuuming, bathrooms, and fabric cleaning. I focused on walls. And I discovered my New Thing for the week: Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser.
Friends had talked about Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser for years, but I’d never tried it. It feels squishy, like a memory foam pad. I hadn’t expected that, and I liked the sensory experience. But what I really liked: it worked! It took scuff marks off the wall! Like magic! I thought of the hour I’d spent on our laundry room floor when magic like this existed. I was going to go home and look for more scuff marks. I wanted more time with a Magic Eraser.

Deep cleaning the Literacy Program classrooms is like Tom Sawyer’s fence painting. The place was filled with volunteers moving furniture, getting into corners, climbing on stepladders. Would we have had as much energy cleaning our own homes?

Poor Tim finds me a barely half-hearted, mostly reluctant back porch painter … and then I go and wash walls elsewhere?

I surveyed the clean walls and the bucket of now-dirty water and thought of my own walls. Going home was going to mean looking a little suspiciously at them. Polly said she wasn’t going home till after dark.

After washing the door, I couldn’t bear to replace the old, dirty, covered-with-years-of-tape Exit Sign. There are eleven exit doors. I gave myself a mission: buy new Exit Signs and figure out a cleaner way of attaching them. Velcro dots? Magnetic strips? Where do they sell Exit Signs?
I started out sad and useless. Then I volunteered to wash some walls. The Literacy Program got a deep cleaning, and I ended up with a mission, a New Thing, and a sense of accomplishment. I think I came out ahead.

1 comment:

  1. I like the way you pulled a lesson out of this experience.


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