It’s the time of year when I go through the rituals of spring cleaning, though this year that feels really different. As I get the stuff to goodwill or rearrange the furniture, I notice it’s with a mix of emotions. I’m really grateful for this house that has sheltered us in every sense of the word, and that sense of thanks is infusing my tidying, even as I’m eager to finally go somewhere else. I’m cleaning not for houseguests or in anticipation of a dinner party, but because my partner and I need the fresh air and a feeling of change. I need to feel more grounded and the yard needs work, so that’s an easy win-win, and those buds that are coming up mean something more profound this season.
The reason we’re motivated to do spring cleaning in the first place is to shake off the winter doldrums, to sweep the heaviness out of the house. In a traditional village, we might be bringing in fresh straw and foraging the first of the wild edibles after surviving off the root cellar. Maybe there’s some memory of that in our bones, even with our access to laundry and year-round pineapples.
I was reminded, too, that the bears are out. I think we’re also hungry ones coming out of our caves. There’s a lot more winter hibernation and isolation for us to shake off.
As someone who looks at the ancestors to see how they survived and see how we can bring some of their wisdom forward, I was curious to see what happened after other pandemics. In the wake of the Black Death, churches in Europe took a decidedly macabre approach and decorated with bones and skulls, and even two hundred years later, many artists used similar imagery to remind patrons and viewers of their mortality. The mass brush with death that was the Bubonic Plague stayed in people’s consciousness for centuries. By contrast, there are almost no memorials to the 50 million people who died of the Spanish flu in 1918. There are precious few novels or songs about that time, and not much mention of the nurses and doctors who did their best under horrifying circumstances. I did find a self-portrait of Edvard Munch, though there’s even some debate that maybe…