It was a warm, sunny Monday afternoon. I stood at the top of my basement steps with arms crossed and a tentative scowl furrowing my brow. Staring into the dusty dampness below, only one thought encapsulated the strength of my intentions and resolve: “Do I have to?”
The task at hand was in itself a simple one: Enter the basement, retrieve the children’s seasonal clothing bins, bring them to the main floor for laundering and distribution. I have done this many times with marked success, so there should have been nothing to overcome. And yet.
Confession: my basement is…dank. It’s unfinished and has occasional leaks during heavy rains. As a result, with the exception of two raised sections that are okay for storage, it has become a dump for unwanted items, outdated decorations, incomplete projects, and spiders. The spiders are the worst. I don’t get roaches; I don’t get ants; I don’t get those nasty little centipede-looking things or termites or even very many flies. I do get spiders.
We have a pretty peaceful arrangement, though, the spiders and I. They mostly live in the basement. Every once in a while, one will surface just – I am convinced – to make sure that we humans know their continuing presence. However, they don’t bother us often and I believe it’s because of this unspoken contract: They agree not to ascend upon us in all their numbers and drag us away bodily, nor to show their faces/legs/gross little bodies more than two or three times a year, and we (in the form of my children) sustain them with crumbs.
I had been to the basement intent on retrieving the clothes in my traditional fashion (furtively dashing down the steps with one hand raised both as a sign of peaceful treaty-keeping and to keep errant cobwebs from ensnaring my face) just days before this. I discovered to my dismay that the clothes I needed were scattered about the storage area in miscellaneous grocery bags. I was going to have to sort them into new bins and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how much time I could spend down there working on such a project before I would find myself in violation of the treaty. Would there be repercussions?
Having discovered no way around the grisly task, I finally made my descent and began dragging out bags. It was horrifying. First, I discovered that the clothes cubby had sprung a small leak after all. Second, said leak had caused not only the saturation and mildew of some of the clothes, but also the ideal conditions for a salamnder to build its home. Finally, behind all of the clothes was an entire stash of baby equipment items that needed purging due to the fact that I had neither seen nor cared about them in over five years.
I dug and I heaved and I carried for seemingly days, careful to keep at least one eye in constant vigilance over the low ceiling lest an arachnid emissary have been dispatched to hasten my departure. In all that time, I became increasingly fatigued because it seemed that the more I worked, the more mess I discovered and the farther I was from my goal. I found myself going through a cycle of emotional responses: disbelief, resentment, anger, discouragement.
Thankfully, my drive to eliminate the foul muddle outweighed my distaste for the project and suddenly…I was done! The clothes were sorted, the trash can was overflowing, and the cubby was swept clean and dry. It felt like a victory of epic proportions and I hurried to shower so I could hop on facebook and announce my conquest to the world.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized the parallels within my experience. There are crevices and secret compartments in my heart which put any cellar to shame. I have habits so old that they outlived their usefulness when I was the one using baby equipment. Some strictly held points in my worldview have never been tested in the light of day. Don’t even get me started on the stacks of files in the corner, piled high with issues that I am putting off sorting and addressing. What a dump.
As I survey this landscape and the tasks ahead, I know that it will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better. Upsetting comfortable resting places and established patterns automatically produces a bigger mess in the beginning. If I get discouraged, though, I can always visit my basement and remember that the rewards are well worth it. With the permission of the spiders, of course.