Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Clean Gene

 February 16 was “Clean Monday”, a national holiday in Greece and Cyprus. On that day, citizens enjoy outdoor excursions, feast on shellfish and unleavened bread and fly kites. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s followed by Clean Tuesday and Clean Wednesday – in fact, the whole week is called Clean Week, a week designated to give your home a thorough cleaning.

I say unfortunately, because if there is a gene for clean, I don’t have it. There!  I have come out of the closet and admitted that I have been fighting all my life with cleanliness and its cousin messiness. What a relief to let you in on this hidden problem.

I love clean: clean white t-shirts, shiny kitchen stoves, dustless light fixtures, and sparkling windows you can see through. I do my very best to keep our home (kinda) clean, but I do not have that clean gene that shows me where the dirt is. I just don’t see it until it reaches out with its sticky fingers, grabs me by the neck and  throttles me so I have to pay attention.

 “They” say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” But I say, “Cleanliness is next to Impossible.” The Dutch have a saying I’ve been hearing all my life: Opgeruimd Staat Nettjes. Literally, it means Neat and Tidy looks Good. I’ve heard it all my life, true, but until scientists learn to insert a clean gene in my DNA, neat and tidy is a constant struggle.

I am fascinated by people who have clean genes in spades, the ones who see the spider webs in the corners, the dust under the buffet, and the stains in the teapot. You can step into their homes any old time, and all will be lovely and serene and clean.  I see those imperfections, too, but generally not until I know that guests will be arriving imminently. Funny how that gives you a new way of looking at your surroundings. Company’s coming? Time to call Molly Maid! (I wish!)

Without the clean gene, things often go awry when I do get down and dirty on the dirty. Washing windows results in streaky panes; the crumbs I swept out of the drawers hop right back in when my back is turned. A week after I’ve cleaned out the fridge, the RS shows me a dish he found there that contains what he diplomatically calls 7 Layer Dip (the first 6 layers being mould.) Where did that come from?

Yesterday, I got out the vacuum cleaner to clean out the sewing machine (it was overdue, long overdue.) Not only did the vacuum do a good job on the thread barf and dust bunnies, but it also sucked up some essential working parts. I ended up having to disembowel the dust bag, spreading out the grimy entrails on a newspaper to retrieve the missing parts. For some people, clean is easy. For me, it’s a full time job.

In the absence of the clean gene, I have learned to live with, and be grateful for, the genes that I do have. I like this plaque, also Dutch:
"Creative people don’t have messes; they just have ideas laying around all over the place."

Then I look at this poster that trumpets a pretty strong message:

If I believed that, I'd be doomed. But I realize that just because someone says something strongly doesn’t mean it’s true. Cleanliness is good, and we do the best we can, but it isn’t everything. In the long list of attributes that reflect the Creator’s handiwork, I’m guessing that cleanliness is far down the list, coming after kindness, compassion, mercy, love, hospitality, joy,  and yes, creativity as well.

It’s good to remember that the Greek celebration of Clean Monday originated in the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. The Sunday evening before Clean Monday, parishioners go to church and observe the liturgy of forgiveness. As part of that liturgy, they bow down to fellow worshipers and asked for forgiveness for the times they’ve wronged or hurt each other.

Opgeruimd Staat Nettjes – Neat and Tidy looks Good. But even better is cleaning up the insides of our lives and creating harmony in our communities: it doesn’t take a clean gene-ious to do that!

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