Dearest Rachel –
Many years ago, back during the throes of World War II, Norman Rockwell created a series of paintings entitled ‘The Four Freedoms,’ highlighting the liberties we have as Americans that made this country what it was.
And yes, I’m using the past tense, because it seems that everybody and his uncle Sam seem to be of the opinion that the U.S. these days is, at best, utter crap. I’m not about to dignify that argument with my two cents for now – heck, I’m not sure from one day to the next how I actually feel about the question – but I’ve been mulling over the fact that I’m in possession of at least one more freedom than Mr. Rockwell illustrated.
The freedom from expectations.
I mention this because of the fact that Kris is coming over today to work on cleaning the house. Not that it’s anywhere near the first time, but because it just occurred to me: this isn’t something you could have done, hiring out someone to clean the place for us.
Society imposes a certain set of expectations on us as individuals; given who we are and what circumstances we’re in, we’re supposed to behave a certain way regarding this or that issue. It’s one thing, for instance, for my sister Jen to hire someone to clean her place. She works for a living, teaching special-needs children. She’s got her hands full. But while I did what I could to ensure that you didn’t need to work (and of course, once your folks passed away, you were more than able to return the favor to me – would that we had had more time together to enjoy that situation! But I digress), that meant you were expected to keep you own place clean, and Daniel tended to.
Daniel was a joy for you to tend to, I can see that now. The fact that you and he bonded to a level that I cannot aspire to is a testament to that. But cleaning the house? Yeah, that didn’t spark joy in you, and so you basically set the task aside. At best, we shared the attitude of ‘why bother cleaning what’s gonna get dirty again in a moment or two, anyway?’ It didn’t help that we had, to borrow from George Carlin’s routine, more stuff than we had places, and no desire to get rid of any of the stuff. It was too hard to let go of, even if it would free up places for use were we to do so.
It limited our opportunities to be hospitable. You were the friendly, gregarious type, but there were only a few people we could welcome into our home, as they were understanding and accepting of this shortcoming. As long as they didn’t expect things to be neat and clean, they were welcome to make themselves at home.
It wasn’t that you couldn’t clean up the place. Back in 2008, we had your parents up around Christmas time – I can’t recall why that was, as we generally tended to alternate Christmas and New Year’s between our parents’ homes. But needless to say, this resulted in a frenzy of picking things up and cleaning them out, so that your folks wouldn’t know what kind of a mess we generally tended to live in.
And those pictures (which I gleaned from your old phone) just prove that you knew what a huge job it was going to be, and how proud of the difference you would be, that you took before and after photos or most of the house.
But for all the pride you took in those efforts that one time, that work was the exception rather than the rule. That effort – and the effort needed to maintain that level of cleanliness – was just something we weren’t going to be able to keep up on our own. And even now, when we could have afforded outside help, I don’t think you would have agreed to it. Not because of the cost, but because it was supposed to be your responsibility, and to hire out help meant admitting that you were unable or unwilling to do it yourself. And I think that may have bothered you more than living in a cluttered mess.
Leslie Phillips had an… interesting… song about those sorts of expectations. For the sake of context, I understand she was feeling a bit trapped by her album label, and sticking to a carefully-crafted persona as the Christian answer to Cyndi Lauper, when she didn’t see herself as that at all, and was trying to break free from what she was ‘supposed’ to be:
Did you ever feel like you were trapped by society’s (or, at least, our parents’) expectations of what our house ought to look like?
Anyway, this is the freedom I have, that clearly you didn’t; the freedom from such expectations. A bachelor isn’t expected to be able to keep a clean house (in fact, there is a certain expectation by society to consider one who can to be somehow… suspect…), and so, there’s no stigma on my contracting for help – much like my sister and her full-time work situation. It’s not a freedom afforded to everyone, unfortunately, but it is there all the same. I wish you had been able to be aware of and take advantage of it with me, but this is how life is likely to go for now.
At any rate, I should let you go so I can wrap things up here at the ‘office’; Kris will be over at around noon today (and again on Thursday, as she’ll have limited time either day, and I can’t have her over later in the month), and I feel like I should be there for some reason…
…maybe I have expectations of myself that I’m not quite free of, after all…