Once, when I was a kid, I read a book in which the tween-aged protagonist asked her dad why she had to wash the back of the plates while doing the dishes. After all, by her reasoning, you don’t ever use that part of them, and everybody only looks at the front anyway. His response was something along the lines of, “You wash the backs of your hands, don’t you?” This was a rather unsatisfying answer to me, and so I posed the same question to my own dad, hoping for something better, something more logical (and, perhaps, looking for an excuse to cut back on my workload). Being the through-and-through engineer that he is, he did not disappoint. “Because we stack them on top of each other when we put them away, and so if you don’t get the back of one clean, it will get the plate underneath it dirty.”
In the days following Christmas, I tackled the much-overdue job of cleaning the fridge and the freezer, going after their deep recesses and hidden corners with my warm, soapy water and scrub brush. It was not a pleasant job. As I moved each shelf to the sink, scouring the accumulated grime and gunk along the edges and on the undersides (how does so much stuff get there, anyway?), it occurred to me that this job I was doing? Nobody in the world knew it needed doing. And once it was done and everything was sparkling and shiny and clean again, nobody in the world would know what I had accomplished, because it was all completely hidden from view. Sure, there are parts that were obvious – instead of the haphazard shoving of items wherever they would fit, there’s now some semblance of order – but the really nasty parts, the ugly, secret stuff? Though it’s all gone, the casual observer would never know the difference. You have to get up-close and personal to see what’s changed.
Oddly enough, however, though it isn’t visible to the outside world and though it’s a job that will only have to be repeated in the future, there’s a satisfaction that comes in the completion of a task, in work well-done.
As one year draws to a close and another begins, it seems appropriate to reflect a bit, to think about where my life has been and where it is now and where it is headed. I know that the moment that hangs between December 31st and January 1st is an arbitrary thing, chosen by men, and that there’s nothing intrinsically special about turning that three into a four. Still, we human beings have always marked the passage of time, the changing of the seasons, and there is something holy and important and good about observing these rhythms of life.
If you had asked me a year ago what 2013 would bring, I would not have come close to being able to tell you of the heartaches and the joys and the ups and the downs we would experience. If I have learned anything, it is that I do not know what tomorrow holds, and so I will not hazard a guess for 2014. I have strong hopes, certainly – mainly that this sweet little one who kicks and tumbles inside of me will be born healthy and strong sometime in the spring. I know that this next year, like every other, will bring its share of triumphs and failures, of laughter and tears, of fulfillment and disappointment.
And I know, too, how I want to live my life, regardless of what comes. I don’t have specific resolutions for this new year, no “exercising more” or “being more diligent in my quiet time” or “writing regularly”. Instead, I want to focus on being somebody who sees the small, dirty, ugly secrets in myself that are hidden from the world, and works to make them clean, even if nobody else even knows they are there. I want to be somebody who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, who isn’t afraid of being hurt, who gets up-close and personal with those around me, so that I might celebrate their triumphs with them. I want to be somebody who is aware and notices when those I love make the small, important changes in their lives.
When another year has passed and we are once again looking forward and looking back, I want to be able to say that I have chosen to be present, to be alive, to be intentional. May I order my days in such a way that, come the end December 2014, I can say that I have lived these twelve months well.
Happy New Year.