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Cleaning House

July 16, 2009 Length: 7:50

What REALLY happens when the wife is gone for ten days and the husband realizes he has 24 hours to prepare for her homecoming? Listen to Steve give away the "man secrets" and why cleaning house is a part of our salvation.

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[Music: She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes.
She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes.
She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain,
She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain,
She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes…]

Well I missed last week’s podcast because, well, my wife’s been out of town, and, frankly, when she goes out of town, things just kind of take on a life of their own, and somehow the universe doesn’t seem to be quite so orderly when she’s not here. But, anyway, she’ll be home tomorrow night and I have about ten days of bachelorhood that I need to hide within the next 24 hours. So you’d think after 35 years of marriage—not in a row—I’d pretty much know what her eyes and nose will go to like a ball bearing to a magnet as she walks into the house through the garage door.

Okay: laundry room. Let’s get the pile down below the timberline. “No, honey, that’s not snow on top of the pile; those are the whites!” Uh, yeah, right. Check. Okay: garbage can. Empty the evidence. Let’s see: five Oscar Meyer hot dog packages, three Lays barbecue potato chip bags, two Captain Crunch boxes, two pork-and-bean cans, one Spam can, ten bacon packages. Put in a new liner; let’s add some empty oatmeal boxes, some banana and orange peels… ah! some corn husks with the “organically grown” label showing. That’s good. Ah! A twelve-grain–bread wrapper. Let’s see… a fat-free turkey lunchmeat package and an empty skim milk carton. Yeah. Okay; check.

The kitchen; she comes through the kitchen door. Dump the bacon grease out of the frying pan. Yeah. Boil some oatmeal. We’ll take half of it out and leave it conspicuously on the stove. Speaking of the stove, I’d better powerwash it. “No, honey, the stove’s clean; I bought us a new brown stove while you were gone.” Yeah, right. Let’s see; I need to go to the shed and find the belt-sander to clean the countertops and … I need to find the sink. I Googled it and Google says it’s usually under the pile of dishes.

Okay, let’s see. I walk on the floor in some loose flip-flops to see where it sticks the worst. Acid-wash the floor: check. The refrigerator: oh-ho-ho. Remove all the green stuff and replace it with lettuce, zucchini, and bell peppers. Take out the beer, replace it with a two percent milk carton and some pomegranate juice bottles. I’d better pour half into the sink first. Throw away the pizza and replace it with some pita bread and hummus. I’ll set a mousetrap for the stuff that keeps moving around. Okay, check.

Dining room. Find the dining room table. Googled that. Hm. I think I see a pattern developing here. I didn’t know we had 37 glasses, 19 coffee cups, 43 forks, 17 knives, 28 plates, and 23 assorted pieces of Tupperware. How’d all that stuff fit in those cabinets? Anyway. I think all the mail will fit in a lawn-and-leaf bag, and maybe I should move my compressor and the lawn mower, the tool box, and the screw gun off the table, too. Okay, check.

Living room. Better make sure the bird and the dog are still alive. Better clean the birdcage. Gosh! How can a four-inch bird manufacture that much— anyway. Especially when you only feed it once a week. Rake up the dog hair. Yeah, better do that. Check.

Bedroom. Ugh: wash the sheets. “What’s wrong, honey, your side is clean, just like you left it!” Won’t even go there. Take the beer bottles, Frito bags, bean dip, and sardine cans off the nightstands, and, oh, yeah, light a vanilla-scented candle and let it burn for 24 hours. Okay, check.

Bathroom. Ooh. Find the blowtorch and the sandpaper and clean the sink. And, hrm, better call a plumber to replace that toilet. I’ll find some flexible towels and washcloths to put up. Check.

Well, okay, so, when she comes in the door: “Welcome home, sweetie! Nah, no problems; everything was great. I did just fine.”

[Music: And we’re gonna have chicken and dumplings when she comes (when she comes).
We’re gonna have chicken and dumplings when she comes (when she comes).
We’re gonna have chicken and dumplings, yes, we’ll have chicken and dumplings,
We’re gonna have chicken and dumplings when she comes.
She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes…]

So I just betrayed my gender and gave away all the man-secrets of what really goes on when the wifey is away—and maybe it was a little exaggerated—but not much. And if I really come clean with myself, everything wasn’t great. I didn’t do “just fine.” The reality is: I live differently alone than I do with my wife. I’d probably venture to say that most of us live alone differently than we would with someone else. And this is the core of our salvation.

It isn’t just about having someone to nag you about vacuuming the house and eating the right stuff and cleaning the toilet. It’s about having someone else’s needs and sensibilities and life to have to take into consideration. It’s about getting out of yourself and realizing that the smallest of your actions and words and voice inflections and mannerisms and changes to life all mean something. Life has no expression apart from doing. And even when we’re doing nothing, we’re doing something. Marriage is the arena in which we face that reality in spades every day. Our other communal arrangements, like monasticism, parish life, and our jobs and our clubs and our organizations all reinforce the fact that we are created in a Trinitarian image. We exist as communal beings. Nothing we do is an isolated act. All of our life is intertwined, inexorably, with the lives of others, whether we want it to be or not.

So why clean the house before the wifey arrives home? Really, it’s an act of love. It’s a sacrificing of internet time, nap time, a fishing trip, but more than that, it’s looking at my life and realizing that, left to myself, I am less than what I am called to through the love of my wife, and my love for my wife. Love is a weighing of the consequences of the small things, an examination of the chaos that I naturally create, and my ability to mindlessly sink into the disordered existence in my own head. Love in marriage is, in the end, repentance, a turning away from self-absorption, obliviousness to the meaning of my thoughtlessly performed actions, and a step toward fulfilling my created nature through communion.

So, no, sweetie, things didn’t go well. Thanks for coming home, because I’m a better person because of you. I’m glad you’re back.


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