WARNING: this post will discuss filth. If that disturbs you, I will give you a few seconds to leave.
Okay, now that those with gentler constitutions have moved on to greener pastures, let’s get to it.
My mom called it ‘spot-cleaning’ — for example, instead of taking everything off the table, wiping it down, and polishing, one takes the dishrag and wipes around any obstacles. She’d say it wasn’t really clean.
Not so much.
Like most folks, I take out the trash, which involves removing the garbage bag from some sort of holding receptacle and placing it in a larger receptacle until such time as a truck full of such bags comes along to take mine away.
I am the proud owner of a white kitchen can. Let that sink in for a moment. I wipe down the outside on a regular basis, not just to keep it from being totally gross but as a monster deterrent; in case you didn’t know, dogs love to lick things that smell like or hold food. Or the remnants thereof. I am quite good at deterring the two I have.
Yet and still, it has largely been an effort in spot-cleaning, since the inside hasn’t gotten much love. Until today.
I took the bag out and as I’d done for the past couple of weeks (okay, maybe a little longer … or a lot. Don’t judge), I glanced sidelong into the mucky bottom. Can’t stand it! I announced to the kitchen and carried the offensive can to the front stoop (where the hose is located), along with cleaning juice and a sponge. As I scrubbed, rinsed, winced, gasped, dumped, and repeated, I realized a bigger cleaning job was afoot: an emotional one. Here are some parallels if I’ve lost you:
- When you put a light on a thing, it might be dirtier than you thought. So in the dim light of the kitchen, the can looked great! It’s easy to act like everything is all right, but in the light of day (or the glaring stare of someone who really gets you), the evidence of your pain becomes obvious. Rather than closing the lid and ignoring it (like I might have been doing with the kitchen can), deal with it before that pain eats a bigger hole in you.
- Be prepared to scrub, more than once. Just like it took more than a day (or a year … Don’t judge) for my garbage can to get all gross, it took a while for whatever emotional whatsit that’s hurting you to develop. It might take more than a day for you to get it off you.
- Rinsing might bring up more crap that you didn’t know was there. Or had simply been ignoring. I thought I’d cleaned the can well but when I put the jet rinse on it, all sorts of gunk in cracks, corners, and crevices popped out, making what I’d cleaned even yuckier. Dealing with all the hidden dirt is tough — elbow grease is required. That’s for emotional gunk as well as physical. Don’t ignore it anymore or it will grind in even more and be harder to remove later.
- Be prepared to throw something away. No, you shouldn’t throw away the can. Unless you’ve not cleaned it for decades. But the sponge? Sure. In the case of emotions, you can’t throw them away because they are connected (well, if you happen to be a Vulcan, but even they have emotions … just well-checked ones. Okay, I digress). You can exhale and move on from whatever emotional thing happened, though. Yes, it’s harder than throwing away a sponge and unlike something tangible that you throw away, those feelings of hurt will come back. However, you don’t have to let them cling. Feel them in the moment and move on.
- Check your work. This is related to the rinse and repeat point above; you can’t just clean and walk away. Sometimes you have to do it and come back to verify that there aren’t some places that need more attention. Do this before throwing your sponge away, though, if possible. In the case of an emotional conundrum, self-assessment is important. Asking Am I really over this? What am I doing and why am I still holding onto it? is sometimes needed to move forward.
- After you’ve cleaned, call HAZMAT if necessary. There was splash-back during my cleaning of the can, which means some of the gunky water from whatever that was in the bottom of the can landed on me. Ew. Hence, the shower for me. Although I probably should have called the real HAZMAT. Regarding emotional matters, there’s nothing wrong with a good, cleansing cry after you realize that something needs to go from your psyche. Like the stuff those specialty crews use to disinfect a pidgeon-infested attic, tears are cleansing and a way to mourn a painful situation. But just like when you take a shower, you can’t stay wet after — dry your tears and step into a new frame of mind.
- Congratulate yourself on a job well done, but don’t get it twisted. I was quite pleased with my cleaned up garbage can, but I know I’ll have to be vigilant. Despite all best efforts, stuff drips past the liner. Odors get trapped. Dust collects and turns to mud in the bottom. At work, in church, in personal relationships, there might be some sort of yucky emotional build-up. Don’t let it sit — address it early to avoid hurt and upset.
I enjoy reading the Bible because, as a writer, I can appreciate the linguistic nuances and learn from it. That’s in addition to its value to me as a Christ-follower, but that’s another story.
So there’s a passage that talks about being clean on the outside but not on the inside. Click the link, read it, and I’ll wait. I like the word used in the King James version in verse 27: ‘sepulchers’ instead of ‘tombs’. As a horror fan, ‘sepulcher’ is certainly a word that somebody like Vincent Price would use to the fullest. Which is another reason why I love it.
I want my house to not be spot-clean but really clean. More importantly, I want my spirit to not be a whitewashed sepulcher, clean on the outside but nasty on the inside. In both cases, I’ve got to put in the work.
Who’da thunk all that would have come from washing a garbage can?
What do you need to clean today — physically, emotionally, or spiritually?