I love my van, Claudine, so much so that when Knute drove her home from the Ohio dealership to where we lived in Illinois in 2003, I named her after a character in one of my all-time favorite children's books.
Because I love Claudine, I try to take good care of her. There are the usual oil changes and tire rotations and the less frequent but equally important maintenance jobs every 15K miles or so. In between all these little fix 'er ups, I keep Claudine's tires at the right air pressure, pick up the kid detritus that seems to follow my three everywhere they go, and keep the old girl clean by vacuuming her and washing her windows.
It's been a while since I've done that last one on the list. On Sunday, as we zoomed home from the Donut Shop after 7 am Mass, Knute squinted and peered at the rising sun through Claudine's dusty and smeared windshield. Clearly - or, really, not-so-clearly, it was time once again to get crazy with the Windex.
I made a mental note to get it done but then the day got busy on me. There were leaves to be raked to the curb for pickup and half-frozen tomato plants to be pulled; in the sink, a pile of dishes from our eggs and donuts sat waiting for their bath. Our dog Brownie stalked me through all of these tasks, dashing after shiny shadows on the floor and chasing the still falling leaves from the Osage orange trees but never leaving my side once he heard me whisper to Knute that I'd be the one to take him for a walk later that morning. And then there was the sheer pleasure of hot cup of coffee and a Sunday paper.
Claudine's dirty windows fell into the back corner of my mind, forgotten.
Then I walked out to the garage in the early afternoon, my hands full of recycables, and saw Knute cleaning Claudine's windshield himself.
"Thanks, babe," I said.
"No problem," he answered. "They needed it"
This morning, I woke tired and feeling low; both not unexpected. Tired because I'd been up very late on Sunday night tackling a stack of emails, paperwork, bills, and blogging. Low because the combination of autumn and the darker evenings that come with the time change always hit me hard with the passage of time, the inevitability of change.
I sat in bed for a few minutes and thought about the day to come, wondering how I would fit in what I wanted to do with what I needed to do. The realization that this day left me precious little time for me washed over me and made me both mad and defeated. Downstairs, I heard all three kids getting breakfast and glanced at the clock. I'd overslept a bit meaning that even a quick shower was out of the question.
Sighing, I swung my feet out of bed; my ankle knocked against the totebag filled with my bible study materials. I hadn't read all of what we were scheduled to cover today. Late last night when I settled in to do the work, I'd been too tired to read further and too bored with wondering how on earth this particular section of our study related to my life; after getting through two questions, I'd packed it up and put it away.
I sat on the edge of my bed now and looked down at the bag. You could skip today, I thought. Two hours to yourself while Tom's at preschool. Two.whole.hours.
I thought about what I could do in those two hours. Walk the dog for a couple of miles. Win the latest skirmish in the 10 Years Laundry War. Get a handle on the clutter and toy explosion in the basement. Take a nap. Read a book.
I was sorely tempted.
But I sighed again, pulled on yesterday's jeans and a sweatshirt that still bears the pulp of our pumpkin carving from almost two weeks ago on it's cuffs (oh laundry, you wretched and relentless foe), and grabbed my totebag of books.
I'll go, I thought grudgingly, striking a bargain with my now tantruming id, but I'm gonna leave early.
I walked in to a house alive with conversation and laughter and the smell of coffee. I sat down with my books, smiling, saying hi, sipping from my own coffee mug.
A baby slept in her mother's arms. Two or three little kids ran around, squealing and playing and eating all the treats they could sneak off the trays on the counter.
More of our group arrived after me, late from preschool drop off. Chairs were found and brought from other rooms; we scooted closer together at the table so that everyone had a place.
We began as we always do: going around the circle, those wanted to asking for prayers or sharing tales of thanksgiving. Conversation meandered as bits of news filtered out through our requests.
Done, we turned to today's section in our bible study and began tossing around our thoughts and impressions.
The baby needed to eat. The little ones argued over a toy. Someone spoke, sharing more than just their thoughts about the questions, sharing a moment from their life, a shard of their history. We all listened with more than our ears.
I walked over to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup and grabbed a donut on my way back to the table. I realized I hadn't once thought about what I could be doing if I'd played hooky instead of coming.
I sat down again, chewing on my donut and my thoughts.
I looked around at all the faces and realized I hadn't once worried about my impossible to do list or the coming dark days of winter or the fact that I'm getting older and my dreams feel like they're receding with the tide of time.
I looked around and realized I was glad I'd come.
Life has a way of settling itself upon us, smearing the lenses through which we see ourselves and our place in the world with dust and smudges and grime.
Peering through the layers of self-doubt and frustration and regret, we see our way forward dimly; the journey of our life shrinks to just the small piece of the path that we can see just in front of us.
It shrinks until the only thing we can see on the path is our own two feet.
Today, I stepped out into darkness, blinded by my own layers of gritty grime, layers of angst and selfishness.
Today, sitting in that circle of friends, listening to that circle of friends, being part of that circle of friends, I found myself looking up from my own clay feet, my sight re-focused, my vision cleared.
Today, I cleaned my windows.
They needed it.