Michelle Martin

Letting go

Sunday, February 7, 2016

First went the broken battery-powered bubble machine. Then a random red checker, a lonely rubber block, a marker without a cap, a game cartridge for a system that last worked in 2010, assorted plastic bits that came from birthday-party goody bags or McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes.

There’s something that feels good and clean and powerful about throwing away the things that collect at the bottom of the toy box and at the back of the shelves. It’s not something that happens automatically, like putting the empty cereal box in the recycling bin to make room for the new box or carrying the kitchen trash out at night, but it’s not usually a big project, planned and marked on the calendar, either.

Maybe it is automatic for some people. Maybe some people tidy as they go, donating toys as soon as their children outgrow them, discarding games as soon as some of the pieces go missing. I’d like to be that way, to be honest, to live in a house where none of the clothes in my daughter’s drawers are already too small and every deck has all its cards.

But as often as not, when something goes into the trash, it sets up a protest: I wasn’t done with that. I still want it. How can you throw that away? My own top drawer is cluttered with things that I have no practical use for: badges that Frank earned as a Cub Scout, going on a decade ago, tossed into a ceramic box that held a plant someone sent when Caroline was born. She’s old enough to vote this year.

So every so often, when the muffins have 15 more minutes in the oven or there’s a halfhour before we need to leave, I’ll take a little time and get rid of the things that have sifted to the bottom of the box, or hidden under the edge of the fridge and stayed there for far too long for anyone to still be looking for them.

It’s not what my mother used to call spring cleaning, and it’s not a huge sense of accomplishment when it’s done, but it’s something.

Ash Wednesday is coming up, leading into Lent, when we fast and pray and give alms. It’s a penitential season, a time of reflection and renewal, of reconciliation and moving forward. There are people who will take the opportunity to spring-clean their spiritual lives, who will do the real work needed to make the windows of their soul sparkle and the floors gleam.

There are also people who will keep on with their regular patterns, who will go to confession not because it’s Lent but because it’s what they do to keep everything in good working order.

For the rest of us, maybe this Lent can be a time to get rid of the spiritual detritus, to take advantage of increased opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation to let go of the sins that have been weighing on us, to get past bad habits that have been cluttering up our lives.

Then we can take a breath and move on.