Last month, 15 women gathered at the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse for a time of communal cleaning and renewal of the space. Our efforts were offered as a giving-back to an organization that has bestowed so much upon each of us, and an intentional focusing-in on a treasured and transformative home for our writing community. The additional blessings came in how renewed and enriched we all felt by our efforts, as we once again experienced the mystery of how, in giving, we so often receive more than we give.
Built in 1923, the schoolhouse has seen many transformations/inhabitants/uses over its years of humble service, before its recent rescue and rededication as the home of Women Writing for (a) Change (as well as several practitioners of other healing arts). This summer, our beloved space was violated by trespassers who, perhaps drawn to its welcoming presence, loitered in the off-hours, helping themselves to the wi-fi, congregating on the porches and picnic tables, disturbing the peace of the place, both literally and metaphorically. Our community, whose basic tenet is “Presume Goodwill,” felt under siege.
The gathering was an inspiration and a celebration. I arrived to a bustle of energy and action already in progress—women lovingly wiping sudsy mugs and scouring appliances in the kitchen, dusting every surface of the place with ingeniously-bristled wands and rarely-seen balletic moves; the fresh scent of cleaners wafting through the brightly-lit rooms; the antisocial roar of two ancient vacuums roaming floors up and down to the accompaniment of doors closing at their approach; the quiet concentration of several brave souls who sorted, organized, and culled nearly 10 years of papers (from a prolific writing community).
As one of the intruding vacuum wielders, I rediscovered in each outside corner of the building two sparkling crystals, a clear pendant and a rounded violet stone, placed there as a blessing upon the building at its opening; polishing them lightly, I returned them to their vigil poses. Vacuuming is a noisy, cumbersome chore, yet I felt awash in an aura of caretaking, and found myself making the effort to move furniture away from walls, take the extra stroke with the massive machine, dig into the corners in pursuit of every cobweb (as I do not always do in my own home).
The festive mood put me in mind of communal cleaning in my distant past—primarily in church settings, where women who shared years of common weddings, baptisms, funerals, and offerings of service to community have gathered for millennia to work together for a common good (so much larger than the feeding, or cleaning, or assisting a family in need that was the immediate origin of the collective action). There was much talk of how we should get together to help one another in our homes (a long-held, rarely-voiced wish of mine), yet the shadow of a shaming fear at revealing one’s less-than-perfect homekeeping certainly crept into my mind.
Afterward, we gathered to do what we do most joyfully—write in community. The talk was of the joy to be found in having every surface touched and made conscious. I offer a few lines inspired by “readback lines” from our circle: invisible specks and clouds and motes; make invisible work visible; summon the companionable spirits; cleaning like worship and ritual; where I can be in any state and be all right; order and calm; this, our home for words and spirit.
Blessings bestowed and received, once again, in community.
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse