|"Gardening in the Rain" by Brian Kershisnik|
I like the idea of lares, these small gods of hearth and home—open and ancient acknowledgments of the myriad shards of holiness which shoot through the most seemingly mundane aspects of existence. Isn’t this what all poetry celebrates—the holiness of the everyday?
I remember one cold Saturday giving the kids a bath. In winter they will often curl up under their hooded towels and sit hunched on the bathroom floor. It’s a visual image I love. Well, this day they were crouching on the bathmat when Lydie saw a bug. She exclaimed, and I went to witness. Lydie and Em had their hoods on and sat crouched and bent over the small bug, their heads inclined as if in reverent acknowledgment of the holiness of very small things. They looked like a couple of colorful monks, Lydia in bright pink and Emerson in orange surrounded by our bright blue bathroom. Blue shag-carpet grass. It made me smile.
Tuesday night at our house was a celebration of the human capacity for expulsion. My children spent much of the night vomiting and retching and moaning. At one point, I think it was about four a.m., after Julie and I had spent an hour cleaning vomit out of the carpet and had changed and rinsed four sets of sheets and four sets of pajamas, I was giving my lissome ballerina daughter a bath, spraying the half-digested food out of her hair. I had tried to hold it back in a pony tail while she puked, but her hair is unruly and indomitable and wanted to fall in her face. She was shivering, fragile and lovely as a butterfly as the water fell over her. I was tired, but the thought came to me that of all the humans who live or will live on this planet, I am one of only a very small handful who will ever have the honor of rinsing vomit out of the hair of this holy child. Suddenly the air was music and the light was gently bright. Exhaustion melted away, replaced by gratitude and mysterious tears. How many such ablutions have I performed without perceiving the beauty of washing another, washing for another? “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” “Unto him that loved us, and washed us . . . be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Julie spent the next two days washing clothing and sheets. When I was a small boy, I remember my mom saying once, “I have figured out what the Neverending Story is. The real Neverending Story is laundry.” I want my mother and my wife to know that the ground on which they stand is holy. “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? . . . These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” A friend once told me the story of a woman who had lost her memory completely. She did not recognize her family or friends. They took her to the home where she had lived for many years, and none of the rooms brought reminiscences. And then they took her outside to the backyard where she had hung her family’s laundry. Her face was transfigured and shone with recognition and she began to speak with feeling of hanging her children’s clothing. The small wet pants and shirts—evidences of a life of performing sacred ablutions. These things remained with her even when nothing else had. These daily acts of holiness.
Night after night, I stand at the sink and rinse the dishes that carry the food which feeds my children. Warm rivers run through my house, cover my hands, bless our living. Surely, this too is a sacred act. Ablutions.