Tuesday, July 14, 2015

HOLY DAYS – Faith, Devotion, Freedom – It’s Not What You Think

I was doing the dishes one evening, my husband standing by my side drying, when he remarked, “You really love getting the dishes clean.” Or I was cooking something and he said, “You’re always cooking something good.” I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but I do remember what I answered, without thinking, I said, “Of course, it’s my faith.”
What is my faith? What is my devotion?
In Holy Days, Gloria Wisher loved to turn to the end of the chapters in her History book where the art, literature and music of the period were depicted. There, she was introduced to the paintings of Vermeer, Renoir, Degas, Matisse and Monet, to name a few. In one scene, she remarks to her friend, June that she has decided the subject of the paintings – women and the work of women – is the most important thing otherwise artists would not go so far out of their way to paint women washing clothes, women cooking, women taking care of babies. Women are beautiful, she says, but the work of women is also beautiful. Gloria realizes that what we have been taught to consider an interruption of life, what we must get through in order to get to our enjoyment of life, our relaxation, our play – the chores we must do in order to survive – the feeding and washing of our bodies and our children’s’ - are not an interruption of life, but life itself, beautiful, God-given expressions of our love and care.  As Gloria says about life, "Every day is a holy day." Because each day makes us who we are. But, if it were not for the Old Italians, her grandmother and her mother, who came home from work and started cooking dinner in her coat, showing Gloria every day what devotion was, and the art, music and literature in the back of her History book, showing her what beauty was, I don't think she would have made it.

Faith and devotion. To get up every morning and begin work, even as you rise, the turning of the bed covers to air them before making the bed, the opening of the windows, the turning off of the night light, opening the shades, turning on the coffee, throwing water on your face, putting up your hair, rolling up your sleeves. To continue work all day into the night, whatever is needed until your head hits the pillow at night – and even then – rising in the middle of night if need be.
What is in your mind and heart as you reach to do the task, as your hand touches the task? Anger? Frustration? Resentment? Feminists have taught women that housework is drudgery, that women are meant for so much more. The old post WWII suburban angst. Now that we’ve won the war, now what? Why am so unhappy, so unsatisfied? Could it be because women – and men, who also must contribute to the tasks - have lost the mission of their housework – which is to take care of life? I used the word housework because it is the least glamorous word I can use. But, let’s change that and say, instead - care of life. In fact, that is Gloria’s definition of a man; she has the same definition for a woman – “Someone who loves and takes care of their loved ones.”
       What is in your mind and heart as you reach to do something, as your hand touches the task? Anger? Frustration? Resentment?
Why not reach for the task with love? With care? With devotion? With faith?
That is true power.
I’ve watched as women who’ve entered the work force leave their true power at home. Women have been taught by feminists that cooking dinner is beneath them. They bring home take-out or buy microwave meals in boxes for their kids to heat up on their own. This kind of fake food only leads to illness, emergencies and long, horrific battles with degenerative disease, drug-use and other problems. But, I can tell you from experience of my own and many other families that cooking good, wholesome dinners with love and intention is your greatest freedom, your greatest power. You will create love and appreciation as well as health. Sitting down with your children, looking them in the face and truly listening to them. That is power. That is freedom. For you and your child. Many people use the phrase, “I would die for my children!” But would you live for them?
       I remember the woman who answered feminists when asked what she did, “I make future citizens of America, it’s an important job, I’m proud of what I do and it’s a full time job.” Full time being 24/7/365. Joni Mitchell, when asked if she was a feminist said she had a problem with feminists because they didn’t respect domestic women and she had a lot of respect for domestic women. Her own mother had been domestic, she said. Not to be confused with a domestic. Not someone who goes out to take care of someone else’s home – usually before and after she has taken care of her own – but someone who loves to take care of their own home. Patti Smith also commented about domesticity: "I’m not a celebrity, I’m a worker. I’ve always worked. I was working before people read anything about me, and the day they stopped reading about me, I was doing even more work. And the idea that if you’re a mother, you’re not doing anything—it’s the hardest job there is, being a mother or father requires great sacrifice, discipline, selflessness, and to think that we weren’t doing anything while we were raising a son or daughter is appalling. It makes me understand why some human beings question their worth if they’re not making a huge amount of money or aren’t famous, and that’s not right."
I recently saw a short video on Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop site of a young couple who, in an almost choreographed dance, made real food breakfast and packed lunches for their kids and themselves before taking the kids to school and going to their jobs. My own daughter does what she calls “food prep” every weekend to create healthy lunches for the week. She takes these portions to work and is able to stay well and not waste her time trying to find a meal every day.
This kind of faith and devotion may be what the Catholic Church or any other religion preaches, but it does not need a religion to back it up. Atheists may have this kind of faith, this kind of devotion. Atheists may also reach for their tasks with love. Mostly, however, one thinks of God. One honors God, one is grateful to God each and every minute. One feels a higher cause to the placing of the food on the table, to the ironing, to the gardening. It’s not only about one’s needs, or one’s family’s needs – it’s about taking care of life itself in every movement. This kind of care spreads into the community, and, subsequently, into the world in the form of caring people. The creation of people. People who were taught by example at home to respect life. That is quality. That is power.
        Quality of life. Many people have told me that I can keep a clean house because I’m always home. I don’t work outside the house. I don’t spend eight hours a day at an office or a factory or a store and I don’t need to commute or pick up kids or shop. But, I did do those things and I still kept faith. When I was a young mother, I did errands and laundry and picked up my kid from school and took her to painting class or her job at the toy store. For several years, I had a string of part-time jobs. Now, I’m retired from a small publicity business I ran for ten years. Of course, many nights while I worked, as I took out the clean pans to make dinner, I would think, “I’m so tired right now, I’d like to go to bed, not start cooking. Why don’t I?” The answer was so obvious, I didn’t bother with it, I just kept moving.
         I would like to add that my decision to be home came first. I am home so that I can take care of the home. I ordered my life to be as simple as possible so that I could live as well as possible. Some people may call that a sacrifice, but it was not a sacrifice. I don’t own a house or a condo or a car. I had only one child. I never wanted a career outside the home. I wanted to write and take care of my home. I wanted to do both well. That simple. I love nothing better than, after doing my daily chores, to put on a pot of beans or soup that will become our dinner and sit down to my writing.
Quality of life. Think of it this way – would you rather be stuck in traffic for two hours a day or caring for your home? Would you prefer to be bending over for an unreasonable boss just so you can buy that new grill or go on a vacation you’re dreading? Or keeping things simple so you can have more freedom?
I don’t expect everyone to do the same things the same way. I hate the word  “should” and I don’t use it. And, I’m not preaching a perfect, clean home. I get it that lots of parents want more than one kid and they want to play with them and help them with their homework and read to them and sometimes leave the dishes or the laundry. And maybe the dog hides the dirty socks or throws up on the rug. I think, maybe that’s a different faith, a different devotion, or a different expression of the same faith and devotion. I do think people would be happier if they approached their homes with love and care rather than impatience or disgust. What do you feel when you look at the mess? Is it endearing? Cute? Frustrating? Exhausting? Do you wish you had the energy to clean up? Or do you truly like the house messy?
I love a clean home. I need a clean home. I need the kind of serenity I can only receive from clean, shining, uncluttered surfaces. Wood floors, wood surfaces shining, clean windows sparkling. Sunlight. I need to have the time to really stop and admire the sunlight in my home. Lots of books, paintings, music, happy plants and most of all - happy child, happy husband. I remember a visitor coming into our home after we’d had a birthday party the day before. The balloons were still tied to the chandelier and she laughed, “This is a happy house!” Indeed.
If everything changed tomorrow and I had to go back out to work, or start up the business again, I would still try to keep as much of this quality and freedom as possible.
That is my faith and my devotion: to create happiness and beauty. To love and take care of my loved ones.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2015

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days, her third novel, is about the seduction and transformation of Gloria Wisher.