It was very humid last night. The fans were running on both floors and it was just beginning to cool down close to midnight when the house finally started to settle down. It was the last day of our vacation and we were all restless and moody. There was a feeling in the uncomfortable air that was hard to dissipate.
"I block you Daddy," my daughter had said emphatically when I went to put her bicycle away earlier. She put up a threatening hand to emphasize her point and added, "I block you for ever!"
She went so far as to grab onto the bicycle with both hands and threatened to what would have amounted to a sit in. We eventually distracted her with an ice pop (her favorite) and I put the bike away in stealth.
My son resisted both food and sleep and clung to my wife for hours. He cried hysterically each time she tried to leave him alone in his pack and play. This is unusual these days and we gave him as much comfort as we could. Eventually he tired himself out with his excessive fussing and fell asleep with fists still clenched.
I had a similar restlessness and after the children were sleeping, I alternated between cleaning and packing to try and work it out. When I get like this, I feel like I’m trying to work a tight knot free from a shoelace or rope; except the knot is somewhere between my thoughts and my hands.
“You okay?” my wife asked as I was passing by with a second load of laundry.
She had looked in on me periodically to make sure I've wasn’t pulling up the floor boards or stripping the walls.
“When the world stops making sense, clean your nest,” I said with a shrug of my shoulders, not knowing exactly how to explain my mood.
It’s a line I stole from a Bruce Dern Film called On the Edge that I like. In the film, Dern plays a runner coming home out of exile to resume racing and confront his flawed past. In a scene that follows a confrontation between Dern and his inflexible (and chronically disorganized) father the two find common ground after years of estrangement; the film underscores his father's acceptance of his son as Dern arrives to his father's suddenly clean and organized house.
Dern, looking at the house in amazed disbelief says "I've never seen the place so clean."
His father, by way of explanation, says in response, "Your mother taught me that. When the world stops making sense, clean your nest."
I liked that reasoning when I first saw the film as a rented VCR tape in college. I still do. When I’m blue or confused, I feel a little better when the house is neat. I try to imagine that the physical rooms around me are just an outward projection of the rooms in my mind. If I clear the clutter, sweep, mop and launder cloths, I’ll think more clearly too.
There’s some truth to this idea, but the cleaning can’t do everything. And when the floor sparkles and the laundry bin is empty, and I still feel confused, I know I’ve taken it as far as I can.
“Feel better?” my wife asked when I’d finished and showered.
This time I just shrugged my shoulders wearily. I went and sat by her on the couch quietly.
“Get some rest,” she urged and nudged me off to bed.
I was tired enough to listen and went to rest without further fuss.
“If a man have not order within him, He can not spread order about him,” I heard the line from Ezra Pound come back to me as I lay awake before sleep.
I have mixed feelings about Pound as a person, but I’ve always liked that line he quotes from Confucius in Canto XIII. For me it’s the reverse side of the “Clean your nest,” quote, but it’s not as easy to follow. It’s a much tougher to organize your thoughts when they’re a muddle. And last night I was much too tired to do more than puzzle about the Analect a little before drifting off to sleep.
It was just as well. Sometimes I don’t think there’s anything I can do but to distract and tire myself out; and even the most sage or effective prescriptions are useless except as a means to exhaustion. Sometimes I just need to let the thing pass.
We’re home now. The inside of our little home in New Jersey is cluttered with a dozen or more of those half unpacked bags I spent so much time preparing last night. It’s a mess, but I feel much better about letting the mess be while I write.
Maybe it’s as simple as getting home that’s made things easier. Maybe it’s the time that the long trip gave me to think. But I think there’s something larger at work too; something that moves silently like a great atmospheric mass of air. And no action (or inaction of mine) can affect it. So that all my energy at cleaning and thinking last night was only a distraction - like a dog barking at the noise of a storm.
There’s no way to know for sure. Today I’m equally tired and much more at peace. The drive and the unpacking and managing of the kids have left me exhausted and I’ll rest soon.
I hope when I wake in the morning the whole of it will have gone like the hurricane they say is stirring out in the Atlantic away east. And the sky will hold that clear sparking blue that only comes after it’s been cleansed by such a powerful event. I wont understand it, but I’ll be glad.