On the Need for Renewal


So, I spent most of today sweeping, hoovering, scrubbing, washing, dusting, wiping and brushing. It’s not the most festive way to celebrate the eve of Christmas, but we all have our rituals. Most of mine involve cleaning—lots and lots of it.

The obsession goes all the way back to my childhood (as most obsessions do). When I was three, I would sit in front of my grandmother’s dresser and line up all her bottles and brushes in neat little rows. When I was ten and suffering from insomnia, I would wander around my house in the dark and line up all the couches and cushions and picture frames. I used to drive my parents crazy by putting away the day’s paper in the hallway closet before they’d even had the chance to read it.

One of my favorite childhood fantasies—apart from playing multiple musical instruments and speaking multiple languages—was having the power to tidy up the whole galaxy. I would imagine a golden glow emanating from me, straightening, tidying and cleaning things up as it poured out of me in an ever-widening circle. First it would clean up my house, then my neighborhood, then my city, then my island, then my country, then the earth and then the entire solar system. (I was a very serious, intellectual child, and even at that age, I knew that debris in the form of satellites and spacecraft was littering our little corner of the universe.) My power was also restorative: forests, valleys, rivers, seas and oceans returned to their pristine, unsullied glories the moment they were touched by the glow. (I stopped short at resurrecting extinct species; I wasn’t sure how much I would unsettle existing harmonies by tampering outright with evolution.)

I think that of all my childhood fantasies, this is the one I still haven’t outgrown altogether. And it comes back every Christmas (particularly during Christmas). When I think about the new year ahead—unsullied and untainted, with its promise of fresh starts and new beginnings—then the compulsion to clean (always present) hits a new urgency and I take out my brooms, brushes, pails and rags. When I clean, during this time of year, it’s never just cleaning. In my own, pedestrian fashion, I’m performing a rite of purification, a rite that assuages a longing as old as the beginnings of our species—the same longing that has the entire world celebrate the incongruous birth of an incongruous child—the longing for renewal, rebirth and redemption.

And however you’re spending your Christmas eve, I wish you the fulfillment of this longing—in whatever form it matters to you.

Merry, merry Christmas eve, everyone.

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