Well, I am getting ready to travel for the summer. My luggage is open, and shirts are strewn haphazardly across my bed as I pack. I am bouncing off my walls, going to my desk where I gather old academic notes. I see a pile of books, dog-eared and worse for wear. Then, I am back to the closet to find a specific pair of chinos. Other essentials have been put into storage. The trash has been emptied. And still I continue cleaning up my room before I go, making it ready for any guests that may need a bed to rest in while I am out of town, a common routine of living in a Jesuit community. All of a sudden I am reminded of some keepsakes, and I move to take down an old drawing a student gave me. A picture that I have kept for years. A picture that spent the last two semesters neglected on the long end of the bulletin board above my desk.
For me cleaning is hectic, but it is also a heck of a lot of fun. Joyful even! Finding old objects invokes time and place, like an engraved flask I got for being a groomsman when I was a teenager. There are also pictures of friends and receipts from meals long forgotten. As I wipe down my desk, I am reminded of osoji, a ritual that translates to “the big clean.” At the beginning of the new year, residents of Japan begin the big clean. All the furniture is taken outside. The floors and walls are thoroughly washed and shelves are dusted. Objects which are no longer needed are donated or recycled. However, this big New Year’s cleaning isn’t just about getting rid of dirt but is first and foremost a polite gesture, a means to invite the divine into one’s home.
Over the years, I have developed my own rituals, too. For longer than I can remember, I have more or less lived out of three large suitcases. Every year or so I would pack up all my stuff and move, sometimes just down the hall and other times halfway across the world. Boxing things year after year was a reminder of what was really important and what was less important. I began donating old things to simplify my life. One year it was the Disney VHS tapes that I watched and rewatched as a kid. I had memorized those movies by heart. They were taken to the Salvation Army. The next year it was the shot glass from a Guyana rum factory, which I clandestinely bought on a college service trip. I left it at a friend’s apartment. I think back on those objects misty-eyed, not for the objects themselves but for the memories and relationships that those objects meant.
Back in my community, I am told the rooms will be painted while I am away. So all the pictures have to come off the walls. As I take them down, I am thinking of other big cleanings. Not just the physical ones. I am thinking of spiritual cleanings, and the moment becomes a chance to examine where I am and where I have been. Filled with gratitude for the people I lived with, I feel the warm sun shining through the window, and I am thankful for that, too. I begin to clean spiritually. But instead of old pictures and knick-knacks, I take out memories, thoughts, ideas that are swimming in my mind. I set them aside so I can get the things that are pushed to the back of mind. There is bitterness, regret, and anger at the events of the last year and how I responded to them. I take those feelings and regrets out, too. I look at them, and I am finally able to get at the cobwebs in the corners of my mind. Once everything is cleaned, I decide what I am going to put back in, what I am going to part with.
As I sit here, having packed up and swept out my mind, I notice the memories I have made with new friends. Memories I am grateful to have. I’m keeping those. I also notice anxiety and self-judgement. I think it’s time to throw those away. I also notice a lot of desire for connection after a year in quarantine. I’m gonna see if some other people want that. They may not, and that’s okay.