My first real holiday job when I was 15 was cleaning in a private surgical hospital. I wore a green nylon uniform, with two pockets and my school shoes. (We only had two pairs of shoes in those days and I could not wear netball boots to work.) When you become a cleaner, secret doors are suddenly revealed, previously hidden in full view. The cleaners cupboard stores shelves of cleaning equipment, all in their proper places, the low sinks for filling buckets plus a higher sink for washing hands. Mops, and brooms and all manner of paraphenalia directly related to the job at hand. The cleaners tools.
These broom cupboards were little kingdoms, everything was scrupulously clean and everything was in an order that allowed the rotating cleaners to be as efficient as possible. The objective of the cupboard was clear and transparent. It was not pretty. This was for loading your trolley and going out to clean. You made a plan, your had your tools, you did your work. But unless you looked for them, you would not notice the smooth clean doors to the ugly cleaners rooms. The general public chose not to think about the cleaning ladies in their green uniforms on their knees mopping up whatever was spilt then disappearing back behind those hidden doors to dispose of the nastiness.
Every surface in that little hospital was scrubbed or wiped absolutely clean every day. Every floor cleaned, every window sill, window, cabinet, doorway, even the underneath of every bed, not just the floor under the bed, the underneath of the bed. I used to empty a huge number of rubbish bins. I emptied these little bins into big bins then all those big bins went onto a trolley and I dragged it outside and emptied them all into an even larger bin. It struck me that no-one thought further than the first little bin. They threw the unmentionable finished-with smelly object into the little bin and it was immediately out of sight and out of mind. Forgotton. Sometime in the morning the bin was suddenly empty and sweet like roses again.
A man once walked into a ward where I was cleaning. The wards had four beds each, with curtains and little bedside cupboards. All the stuff we expect in a 70’s surgical ward, in the times when a real live nurse took a patients pulse by pressing his wrist and holding her little watch. Due to the time of day there was noone in there except me, cleaning the handbasins. He walked in, looked about, called out, ‘Is anyone here?’ I looked up. His eyes did a 360 of the room without pause then he turned back to the door and said to the person in the corridor as he left, ‘No-one here’. I listened to their footsteps walk further down the corridor. Then went back to rinsing, wringing and wiping.
Sometimes we just don’t see what is right in front of us. We keep rocking along in a particular direction, and we might get to read only half the signs, we are going so fast. How often do we sit down and think. What is my objective? Am I wide awake? What is the theme of my life? Why am I doing what I am doing? What did I just see? What kind of person do I want to be? How do I do that? Where are my tools?
I was watching a documentary the other day that was all doom and gloom about fossil fuels running out. That we cannot keep farming the way we do. Our little farms are history. We have watched docos on the evils of Genetically Modified foods, and what it can do to our genetic makeup just by eating those foods. We watch docos on pollution. How all that dirty sparkly stuff in the air is blocking the sun. The bees are dying, our fields are being systematically destroyed by big business. The earth is heating, the earth’s core is cooling. Millions of years of topsoil soil decimated and rendered innert in a few years.Water is turning bad. Monsanto is taking over the vegetable seed market. Organic and heirloom are a dying breed. The people are rioting. We do not know what to believe. Every written piece has an agenda. These documentaries are shot fast and and expertly cut to frighten us or to intimidate us by the might of our enemy and to frighten us into accepting our fate. The only thing left to do is wring our hands. Wrong.
I said to John, as I watched ‘This is terrible, what would we do without our tractor? Do we have to gather our own seed? We have to fight this. Why don’t people see what is happening.’
He exploded. John the Silent one just exploded. He was sick of all these scare mongers he said. Making money out of terrorizing people. ‘You know why we do what we do?’ he said ‘Because it is Right. What about doing something because it is Right! We aren’t out to save the world, just these fields. This barn. Because it is the right thing to do’ He had just bought an armload of his work clothes in off the clothes line, he threw them on the couch and began to fold in angry jerky movements. ‘How about doing it because it is right. Instead of because they tell us to. How about that?’
I had not seen the cleaners door right next to me. The door into our theme. Once I began to apply that question ‘Is this right?’ to my smallest actions and purchases, my animals and trees, my basement shelves full of food and freezers full of clean meat, my old people, my children. My rubbish bin. It was all immediately clear. Tiny bit at a time it slotted into place.
Is this right? Some of it is. Each of us has a different right. So many people ask me why don’t you eat processed food, are you some kind of weirdo? You are in America now. Damn foreigners. Why won’t you feed your cows corn, don’t you want fat in your meat? Why don’t you spray your vegetables, don’t the bugs eat the leaves. It is irresponsible not to kill them. Don’t they have bugs where you come from? Why do you do all this the hard way, the old fashioned way. You can’t do that. You know there is a gadget for that. Why not just turn the heat on or use the dryer. Cake is fine out of a box. Milk is bad. Eggs are diseased. This is just the way it is done. It is what it is.
We all have our own theme. Yours will be different from mine. Your ways of mitigating waste and excess from your life will be different to mine. Your ways of finding good safe food are different. Some people can do stuff on a grand and amazing scale, some people go down in flames still not sure what the hell happened. Some people just take a small corner of their lives and make it right, then go on to another one and align that too. Some people are doing it gently and privately, some fast and out loud. Some people like me are very slow learners. If we were all the same and all agreed with each other all the time – the world would be a very very boring place.
I am going to go back into my metaphorical broom cupboard, with my eyes wide open, then look carefully at the shelves and make sure that I am doing the right things, with the right tools, in the right order to achieve my objective.
What is my personal, just for me, objective? I thought you might ask that, so I pondered on this for a long time. It is hard to articulate but I need to try. You cannot even write a book without a theme. A life surely needs a few decisions.
Smile to the next cleaner you see. Thank you darling.