“. . . make your house fair as you are able. . .”

across the street R
When you get to be my age (I’m that old guy you used to avoid because you didn’t want anyone who was out of touch with the realities of the modern world to be telling you what things were like in the “good old days”), you begin to think things that would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

I’ve been wondering why we spend so much time and energy keeping our homes so spotlessly clean—and why we are so judgmental of anyone who doesn’t. This house cleaning business is a mystery that has built in intensity in my mind over the years. It’s an obsession that cuts across cultural, racial, gender, and age lines with impunity.

I did what I often do (old habits die hard) when I want to investigate the origin of something that seems to me to be purely a societal foible—I went to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible to find Biblical references to it. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” may be an idea that comes from the Bible. “Clean” appears 117 times in the King James Bible. But not one use has anything to do with your tent or your house. All of them are about ritual “cleanness,” rituals no modern American (even a fundamentalist who claims to live by the Bible) would think of practicing.

People who observe Advent in the church sing with fervor (because they know without thinking what it means),

People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year;
make your house fair as you are able,
strike the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today,
love the guest is on the way.

Those words sound like a folk song of some sort, but Eleanor Farjeon wrote them in 1928.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Make your house fair as you are able.

Because cleanliness is next to godliness. That applies to both our persons and our homes. And that truism is so thoroughly ingrained that even people who couldn’t care less about God or godliness believe it (or at least live as if they believe it) as fanatically as godly folk do—perhaps even more so.

Of course it may be a purely animal instinct that we couldn’t eradicate if we tried. Watch a squirrel build and maintain her nest. Think about your cat’s constant grooming and cleaning.

But cleaning isn’t all that’s involved in making our houses as fair as able. There’s this decorating business.

I’ll soon be faced with figuring out how to live “comfortably” in the increasing poverty in which I will live as I get older. I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff (including the pipe organ in my living room) so I can get a smaller, cheaper apartment when it’s necessary. Stuff I’ve bought or been given because it’s beautiful or makes my home look like I’ve “[made my] house fair as [I] am able.” I have some lovely things. Three paintings by the Canadian artist Allen Sapp come to mind. I must sell them.

The cleanliness issue is going to follow me wherever I go (I’m not referring to personal cleanliness). I have these valuable paintings on my wall, but I have no skill in (or, shall I be honest and say little interest in) spending time and money to keep the place fair as I am able. Yesterday I came home to a mess on my living room floor made by my cats scratching on the “Wide Cardboard Scratching Board with Catnip.” I inadvertently left it in a more obvious place than I should have. I was in a hurry to catch the train to come to my inamorato’s house (which he keeps as fair as he is able—and I love it!) and had to decide whether or not to get out the vacuum. I did not. That would be unnatural behavior for me. Later.

Across the street, a new building (actually refurbished and remodeled) is about to open with 250 apartments to rent. I’ve been wondering what it will be like to watch 250 renters move in. Think of the STUFF!

It’s not an architecturally distinguished building. In an effort (I suppose) to make it more exciting or inviting, the owners have installed outside lights that change color. From blue to green to pink to purple—all night long they change color. Is this making the apartment house fair as they are able? Is it a money-making come on? Is it playing out the same mammalian instinct that keeps my cats groomed? Beats me.

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

It’s fun. It spruces things up. But you have to admit it’s pretty silly.