I can't do it is an okay answer.
"This isn't a spotless life. There is much ahead, my immaculate peach."
- Cheryl Strayed
"Where's the paper?" I asked my mother one Sunday. It was around 11 a.m. Back then, I was a college dorm dweller, and The Seattle Times was a treat I looked forward to whenever I visited my parents.
"In the trash," she answered, matter of factly. By then, it'd been in the bin for two hours already.
Spotless is one of my least favorite words in the English language. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No grime, no crumb, no piles, no stains, no loose ends, no blemishes, no crookedness, no slop. I picture a sterile world in which, good or bad, nothing grows and nothing surprises.
I am anything but spotless. From the freckles that cover my face to the paper stacks I leave on every surface, I am spot-full. Which sounds a lot like spiteful. And growing up, I think my mother thought of me as exactly that: spiteful. Spiteful of her need for a threat-free environment.
Since late February 2020, the art of germ control (or lack thereof) has been dominating the news. Everyone is being called upon to sterilize their environments. To allow no funk to get near them. Clean freak has become an obsolete term—that person is simply "extra thorough."
You may think that I despise clean-folk. That isn't the case at all.
All those years growing up, I felt so bad about the way I was. I wanted my mom to feel loved and respected. I was sure that my spotlessness would do the job, so I tried my darnedest to be spotless for her. But mostly, I messed up. I doubt she even knew that I was trying.
There's been a lot of suffering over the last couple of months. And I found myself trying to be the clean little girl I failed to be—even though no one from the outside was setting foot in my house anymore—as if it would show my love, my care and concern for everyone hurting because the world turned upside down and scary. Given how many people seemed intent on cleaning to feel sane or at least experience some modicum of control, I'd say that my impulse wasn't totally illogical.
But coronavirus be damned, I am not capable of managing a spotless existence.
And, once again, it's not for lack of trying.
It's just that I can't be something or someone that I'm not. I like surprises. I like things to grow. I'm okay with the fact that bad surprises and growths come with the territory. I need space for a little funk in my world even if some people I love don't share my point of view.
I think it's safe to say every single person on this planet has lost something over this pandemic. Everyone is under pressure to do what's right when, when you look closely, every "right" turns out to be a contradiction. And many world leaders are imploring us to carry on, to do impossible work.
So here's my little wish for you. Please let it be okay to say, "I can't." Be good with your limitations. You might be judged. You might disgust someone. You might be called spiteful.
But you might not. You might find that saying, "I can't" invites grace. Grace enough for you, for them, for me, for all.
And couldn't we all use a little grace today?
PS. I hope you're doing okay. And it's okay if you're not okay.
PPS. This is the anthem that's been rattling in my brain all month. I very much want to give love a chance as we navigate what's to come.