A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a close friend, talking about life in this era of social distancing. An era where hugs, cuddles and handshakes are discouraged, a time when our interactions are governed by rules. As we talked, I pictured her curled up on her favorite couch in the house, covered in the grey fuzzy blanket she loves.
“Grace, during this period, I have realized that even though I have lived by myself all these years, I have never really learnt how to live with myself,”. She remarked, and her words stopped me in my tracks.
Now, before we go any further, I must clarify that this is not a post about rent and dodgy landlords or caretakers that never show up when something needs fixing. This isn’t about nosy neighbors or bills, or about living with siblings or parents or roommates who know not what personal space is.
This, I must clarify, is about the place where Maya Angelou refers to when she says: “We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”
This is a reminder about going back to the one place where we belong, the home inside ourselves.
Growing up, there are few things I dreaded more than the weekends my mum would make us do a “thorough general cleaning” around the house. It usually happened on Saturday mornings after a long week of school and assignments and all we wanted was to play and laze around.
On such days, we were required to clean the window panes till they gleamed, scrub tiles until they shone, wipe cobwebs off the celling and any other grueling task she would come up with. In retrospect, this periodic general cleaning was not the punishment we perceived it as, rather, an exercise that saw otherwise ignored layers of dust and grime removed from a house we spent every waking day in.
In my early twenties, (I love saying this), I had to come face to face with the dirt that had accumulated in my home over the years. I fondly refer to it as the time when I became at home with myself.
I found decades’ worth of dust, cobwebs and grime. I flinched at first, stunned. Then I started to clean and haven’t stopped ever since. I realized I had accumulated layers of sarcasm to defend myself from bullies. I had built a façade of indifference, creating a persona that appeared incapable of showing weakness or emotions (unless it was anger then I turned into a pit bull). My mum doesn’t come to inspect; it is not her home. My friends do it every now and then, my sisters too, but it remains my responsibility.
I must keep looking even when it is unpleasant. Sometimes I look and realize that I have brought in so much baggage it stinks: toxic relationships, emotional wounds that need tending to, feelings of hurt, disappointment, loneliness and anger that I have left untreated. When I look, I often come to face with feelings of inadequacy, habits that need dropping. But most importantly, I come across beautiful memories, small and big wins I had forgotten about. When I look at my home, I am reminded of such immense beauty, resilience, power.
This is why I must keep cleaning, I must keep renovating, redecorating. I must keep learning how to live with myself, I must remember how to be at home with myself.