The blank canvas. The tabula rasa. The empty surface. It can be intimidating (what will you make of this Nothing and Anything in front of you?). But I actually find great comfort in the fresh start. I love to learn new things and especially when it comes to keeping a blog, when I start with nothing special I usually wind up saying something I didn't realize I wanted to say. Every time I write, I learn something new about myself. You'd think after 38 years, I'd have pretty much figured my own brain out by now. But nope.
I love the beginnings of things: births, baptisms, resurrections. And I love the crisp white look of that tiny little "New Blank Document" icon on my toolbar. Maybe I’m an optimist encouraged by latent potential, or maybe I’m just relieved to know that I haven’t screwed anything up yet. Either way, today I am energized with the thought of filling it up with my words. I may be about to write a bunch of drivel, but you never know, I may be about to write Anna Karenina.
All three of my boys started school this week. All three began at new schools they have never attended before: Ethan at the Junior High, McKay in a gifted class far across town and Gabie in Kindergarten. They were all a bit anxious about the unknown, but excited with thoughts of the year ahead and a fresh start. They have new people to meet, things to learn, blank slates (or notebooks) to fill. Ethan had never ridden a bus to school before (I think this was the single most important reason he gave me for wanting to attend public school this year instead of homeschooling). McKay is hoping for some new friends, maybe the chance to acquire one of those mythical Best Friends he pines for. Gabie is just thrilled beyond measure about going to Kindergarten. He had his backpack filled and parked by the door a week in advance (actual contents: three different spiral notebooks, about 20 pounds of art supplies, a water bottle, the family stapler, a can of Spaghetti-O’s, a change of socks and a tennis ball. I suggested he might need to add the can opener and kitchen sink.)
I am starting fresh this week too – preparing to look out over a classroom full of new faces on the first day of class. I am revising my syllabus, changing major aspects of a course I’ve taught for 13 years, tweaking my exams again, hopeful that this will be the best semester yet. The potential is all there; the future still as unwritten as my students’ papers. I am confident and rejuvenated, like I’ve just stepped away from the makeover counter with a flawless matte finish on my face, ready to conquer the world, or at least the Mall.
I belong to a church where every Sunday we take the sacrament – a token of atonement, repentance and renewal. Sometimes I look up at the vaulted ceiling and wooden beams (or more likely at the florescent lights and basketball hoops since I was late and am sitting in the overflow cultural hall) and I imagine I am in the Sistine Chapel where directly above the altar, Michelangelo painted a scene of God dividing the light from the dark. As the sacrament is prepared, I think back on my week and try to push the darkness – the depression, the frustrations, the many many mistakes – behind me and let the light fill me with peace and hope for better days ahead. In the Sistine fresco, God holds back the shadows with one hand, and with the fingers of the other he combs through clouds of white. In fact, the white paint seems to flow from his fingers; he not so much separates the two as he defeats the dark with an infusion of light. Michelangelo often talked of God as an artist, but in a sense, God is the opposite of an artist. Where a painter saturates a canvas with pigments, God is the source of all newness, the beginner of all beginnings, the Divine Eraser.
This scene was the last one Michelangelo painted on the ceiling; it is smaller and much less complicated than his others. I like to think this is not because he was tired and emptied of ideas and anxious to get his paint-encrusted self down from the crummy scaffold, but because this moment represents the simple seed of the whole creation process that follows. It is the moment we revisit every day of our lives when the sun rises, bringing light from the dark and giving us a chance to start over.
My boys tend to roll their eyes at me when I do it, but I like to quote Anne of Green Gables when they are bummed out by something they have done wrong. I float the words at them cheerfully: “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.”
Can you imagine if we never slept? I don’t mean the kind of never-sleeping that parents with small children already experience, but what would happen if our bodies did not require a period of rest? If each day just flowed into the next? My first reaction of “How wonderful. Just think of all the things I could accomplish!” is quickly replaced with “Ugh. Every frustration, every worry would compound and build and pile up until we would positively sink from the weight of it.” How lucky we are to get a periodic rest mode where we have no choice but to shut down our bodies and brains for several hours. We need sleep; it’s a mandatory physiological thing. Psalm 23 says “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…He restoreth my soul.”
As anyone stopping by unannounced could attest, I have had no motivation for housework recently. At some point, the frustration anyone would feel if asked to “stand right here for a while and hold back this avalanche with a rubber spatula while balancing a baby on one hip” has driven me to give up almost entirely. What’s the point, when nothing I do seems to stay done? I’m no match for the natural forces that wreak havoc in my home. Lately, I have seen and embraced the irony in the cleaning product industry. I truly cannot stem the Tide of my laundry. My dishes indeed form a spectacular Cascade in and around my sink. My carpets are covered with the far flung debris of today’s Tornado and yesterday’s Wind Tunnel and last week’s Cyclone.
I can tell it’s time to get cleaning because I feel edgy and grumpy when the house is a mess. I think we all do. Humans crave the blank surface. We need the dawn, the Mondays, the New Year’s resolutions and the First-Day-of-the-Diets. And yes, it's important to at least occasionally live in a clean house. So, pushing past the sense of futility, I got up early this morning to mop the kitchen floor. A few scrubbed tiles are better than nothing, right?
Then, high on the cathartic mood or perhaps the ammonia fumes, I decided it was time to have a garage sale. I went through every room in the house purging things right and left: clothes dating back to the first Gulf War, books we don’t read (I think after four pregnancies I know better than anyone What to Expect when I’m Expecting, thank you very much), and a demonic black Hefty sack full of toys that let out a cacophonous burst of barks and honks and synthesized music every time I bumped it as I moved it from the playroom to the porch and finally to the lawn to be thankfully passed on to happy children and their unsuspecting parents. It was a joyous process and now my house contains significantly less flotsam and jetsam to drift about when the next hurricane hits.
After a long day of cleaning and selling and hauling the remaining unsold junk to the thrift store, I put my kids to bed and felt more content than I have in quite a while. I held Nora in my arms long after she had fallen asleep and I just stared at her gorgeous little face. She has the most perfect porcelain skin – not a blemish or freckle or scar on it. She is (as each of my babies were) still a blank slate. A fresh start. I will not be able to live my life over again through her, but I get to watch what she makes of her own. I think it is one of the things I love most about being a mother – my home is absolutely filled with latent potential. I get to participate again in all kinds of firsts: first steps, first days of school, first tastes of everything. I get to help raise a new generation. I have given birth to a tiny piece of the morning.