Sometime this summer my mom and I had a conversation about housework. She talked about ironing and making her own bed, and about how her home and all the stuff in it felt more like they belonged to her when she did her own housework. As I imagined her finger tips pulling on bedsheets, it struck me as true that her hand transferred something more, invisible, yes, but definitely something more. I might call it, a kind of cozy, essential spirit of ownership or claiming. I could see sweet clouds of attention blooming in all corners of my mother's house, there at her stove, back near the front door, across at a side table, the silent pulse of her home beating softly.
And because my mind has not yet escaped the trap of this or that, the comparing, the measuring, the evaluation, I wondered what that said about me these days. Because lately, I've had a lot of help with housework. And if I'm being really honest with you all, I have to admit that I don't do as much as I think I should.
The question tumbled in my mind as my family traveled through out the summer. From time to time it made me feel a little bit hollow, and had me wondering if I would be a better person (ha, see that...it's that halo aspiration again), or alternatively if my life would feel connected, if I did more housework. The question would pop in and out like the moon on a cloudy night, until one day I experienced the question differently.
I was standing at the edge of Mokapu beach in Maui, the same one I wrote about last February. Hot, and sweaty and worked out at the end of a jog, I peeled off my vacuum sealed running outfit, down to a basic bikini that I had layered underneath. A warm breeze blew against my skin, and my toes wiggled at the edge of the enormous, unquantifiable pleasure I was about to dive into. Right there, the question flipped for me.
If my mother's home became more hers by her touch, what happened to the ocean when I offered up my whole nearly naked body? It was obvious that a thing so vast and unknowable as the ocean would never, could never belong to me. And yet there was an exchange going on. There was the salt that I licked from my lips and that dried my hair into sticky curls at the back of my neck, there was the way that the sound of my breathing, no matter how far I was from the sea, could always, always take me back to the shoreline, and there was the fact of me, my whole body submerged. What was that?
And then it occurred to me. The ocean did not belong to me, but I belonged to it. Before any knowing or thinking was born in my mind, before I was ten, before I was one, before all things, I was claimed by the sea in a way that would always and forever be one of the truest things about me. It is my homecoming, the place where I can breathe and be and remember that I am not the sum of my achievements. The ocean is not the only thing I belong to, but it is one of the ones that is most essential.
Similarly, my mother's home belongs to her, but if I asked her, I think she would agree that she belongs to home, not just her home, but the spirit of home, the home of all things. As a therapist she is the ultimate tender of the home fires, lighting the spark, fanning the flames, even-ing the glow of that inner fire that is each of her patients' inner home. As a mother, she is expert at creating a sense of family and safe haven through a good meal, a hot cup of tea and an infinite collection of things that at one time belonged to one relative or another. As a person of faith, she is Hestia's priestess, speaking the gospel of the hearth, taming the flames that cook up all that life has to offer. Not only do I think she would agree with this, I actually think she might like it. I hope when she reads this she feels like her housework is mythical, because I think it might just be.
And so it really was never a question of housework or being a better person, after all. It was a question of what I belonged to over the summer and what I belong to right now. Right now, back in Palo Alto I belong to my family, I belong to a few heartstrong friends, I belong to Palo Alto and all it means to me, to writing, to coaching and to a creaky old German Shepherd named Chicca. There are a few other things in there, I'm sure, but for now, for this season those feel like the ones claiming me.
It's good to be home after break. Welcome back to the blog. I've really missed the the feeling of my writing mingling with people I care about. Welcome back.