The art of cleaning, kinda
In my last BookRiot Quarterly box, there was a book called Being Mortal. It talks about how modern society doesn’t think about death. We think about cures and living longer and medical intervention. We put old people in antiseptic homes where they lose independence and control. We give lifesaving treatments that make life worse. And we don’t talk about dying.
I have a letter writing friend who is a med student doing some practical rotations and this is a big thing for her: palliative care, and telling people what to expect, and caring about quality of life
When grandma was dying, they didn’t talk about it with her. She knew, we all knew. Her health changed so rapidly it was frightening but they didn’t tell us what to expect. Hospice was there, so it wasn’t exactly a secret, but no one said “Look, here’s what to expect.”
It’s rough. And so this book really made me angry when I first picked it up — not at the book or the author or even the subject matter. More, just because the last thing I want to think about right now is death. Mortality. Illness. And I was therefore irrationally angry about all of it, wanted to throw the book away, give it away, shelve it and never read it.
But it had come up in my list and I had to read it. That’s the rules.
I’m 100 pages in and it’s quite good — I think worth reading, although I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has just suffered a death.
The reason I’m talking about it now though is I just started reading about what elderly people value (close relationships, family, day to day pleasures) versus what younger people value. It seems common sense — when you’re young you want to do everything, there’s all the time in the world, you crave new experiences. But overall, the book tells me, older people are happier. Their values give them more contentment.
I don’t want to let go of that long term goal of joy. I think it’s a good, healthy goal. But right now having that be a long term goal means I’ve pushed aside enjoying the moment, the small things. I bitched about it yesterday, after all: my days are structured and rigid and there’s no freedom because I see this time as a chore to be gotten through. But I’m robbing myself of contentment.
Things need to be done. This is a chore. Cleaning the house, which was in rather lousy shape to be honest, is something that needs doing. But I want to find the enjoyment in that. I finished the living room last night after (no lie) 14 hours of cleaning. It looks amazing, shining, despite the mismatched furniture, the couch that’s splitting its stuffing down the back, the tables that have been used roughly and lost some finish. It looks like the kind of place I would plop down and read a book, instead of the dusty, spiderwebby, dark room it had been. (this opens a whole can of squirmy, wormlike guilt that I don’t even want to think about). So as I start in on the kitchen, I’m going to try and remember that feeling. Clean, airy, ordered.
So I’m glad I’m reading this book after all.