Sunday, July 21, 2013

In search of my inner Martha

"My God," my mother said generously, "You're the worst housekeeper I've ever seen."

That comment resounded in my head during today's Gospel reading about Mary and Martha.  Martha is the housekeeper, the practical, capable one. Mary is the mystic, the student, the dreamer.

Mom's comment was made during my first, short-lived marriage, which took such a rapid downturn that cleaning hardly seemed a real priority. I was young, I was a college student, I was ... hardly in the mood to scrub.

I should explain that my mom was a real fan of cleanliness, and she took a dim view of anyone who wasn't. She cleaned relentlessly. Spring and fall housecleaning were real in my childhood home, not the vague memory that they have become in my own. Mom took down the venetian blinds once or twice a year and scrubbed them in the bathtub, then carried them out to the clothesline, where they flapped helplessly until dry. I never saw a dish in mom's sink; I thought sinks were intended only for dish-washing, not (as I do now) for dirty-dish storage. Mom never had a dishwasher, and never wanted one. She would have scoffed at the very idea. I would rather lose a limb than give up my dishwasher.

I have not, in this matter of cleaning house, improved with age. Mom has been dead for many years now, but I still hear her voice, puzzled, wondering at my shiftlessness. "When was the last time you wiped down these baseboards?" she often asked.

Baseboards? What are baseboards even for? They simply collect the dirt that would otherwise fall straight to the floor. Then you could (theoretically) vacuum it all up at once. If, let's say, you were in the mood.

 But I'm not. I'm a Mary, you see. Look around for the person with a book and a Diet Coke. Who's that, writing in her journal? Who's that, laboring over a blog? Giving a pass to the dirty laundry for one more day, because there's a really good, nerdy science program on PBS, and you really can wear those jeans one more time? Oh ... it's me.

I must have a little Martha in me somewhere, since we're all an admixture (aren't we?) of active and contemplative tendencies. This is how I read that Gospel story, in any case. Both the listener and the cook are important: all the disciples wanted to sit at Jesus's feet and learn from him, but they also had to eat.  Mary and Martha both had important tasks. And I'm looking for that happy medium, that Mary/Martha state. That good balance between action and contemplation, prayer and service. I hope I can find it one day.

But don't hold your breath about the baseboards. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Smacked-down by a new "-ism"

I grew up surrounded by prejudice. Race, socioeconomic status, education -- it was all there, a judgement just waiting to happen. Prejudice was, in a sense, a generational thing, and though both my parents overcame it to an extent in later life, some of their fixed, negative ideas lingered to the end.

Not me. As a child of the sixties, I had been convinced in recent years that all prejudice was dead or dying.

Working for 30+ years in a liberal university environment, I had pretty much convinced myself that prejudice, at least along the enlightened East Coast, had become a dark shadow from the past.  I work with all kinds of folks: people of all colors, faiths, educational levels, and political opinions. All seem to blend pretty well in the educational melting pot. We make a stronger whole because of our differences, which are mostly superficial.

In a similar fashion, J. had colleagues of all varieties in his IT job.  He has a wide circle of friends and tennis buddies from diverse communities. He and I might as well be the parents on an episode of Family Ties.

Stop, wait! I can hear you snickering, Dear Reader. You're waiting for Pollyanna to meet Godzilla.

And she has.  Remember that old slogan, "You're not getting older, you're getting better"? I believed that one, too!

J. has been out of work lately, laid off at the end of January. With all his years of experience, he gets lots of interviews, especially phone interviews. The in-person interviews seem to go well. Then ... those offers don't roll in.

Ageism. I barely know how to spell it, much less how to approach it. As a spiritual director, I know what wisdom and clarity our elders have to offer; as a hospice volunteer with frail older people, I realize how precious our seniors are.  Companies have missed this point. Ageism is impossible to prove, especially since employers give no feedback after an interview. But J.'s gray hair and beard are hard to miss. With all his skills, it is hard to imagine anything else holding him back.

So, we caved.  When we got back from vacation, J. shaved his beard (which he has worn for 35+ years; the kids have never seen him without it!), and we darkened his hair. I never believed it would come to this. He does look much younger. But what is the price?

I feel slightly ashamed of us. J. could afford to retire if we tightened our belts a bit, but he really enjoys working. So I guess we have bowed to the Unholy Market Force. I feel slavish, obsequious.

I want him to revert to my happy, gray-haired, bearded, grizzled spouse after he gets a job. I want him to know how much I love him as he is. If only the hiring managers felt the same way.