When I came to Marsh Chapel during my freshman year, I quickly became known for being the person who was always cleaning up after community dinner. It didn’t matter how many dishes were involved, nor the amount of effort needed to clean everything. At some point during the meal I would get up, head over to the kitchen, grab a sponge and some soap, and start running water.
When most people ask, “What do you like doing in your spare time?”, I imagine cleaning isn’t a frequently-heard answer. To be honest, I don’t recall ever answering this myself. The acts of washing, straightening, tidying, vacuuming, and reorganizing can be chores, things that are not pleasant to do but are more or less necessary, depending on what people find tolerable in a living space.
And yet, I find something incredibly satisfying in the simple act of washing. Perhaps the satisfaction comes from watching effort produce visible results: if you scrub hard enough, usually the food and residue will go away. I say usually because the one time I had to clean a rice cooker was, for lack of a better word, involved. Or maybe it’s because in order to clean something, you almost always have to be willing to get dirty in the process. If only all problems were that easy to solve.
It’s difficult to come to terms with the events that have happened worldwide, in the U.S., and on campus this past week. It is also disheartening to acknowledge that there isn’t a lot I can do, as an individual, to heal the pain and suffering that has arisen from them. And so often, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the tragedy and grief that the world and one’s peers are experiencing.
One of the most challenging things I’ve had to accept about ministry is that sometimes, the most we can do to help is be present. As much as I can wash the grime away from dishes, I can’t wash away the marks left behind by violence and tragedy, no matter how much water and soap I use. But I can bear witness to the tragedy and not be complacent. I can listen to the stories of those around me, and lend support where I am able to. And most importantly, I can tend to myself to make sure I am able to do all of these things. As we move through the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be present for yourself and for others as much as you are able. Let us be present so that with time and healing, the marks that have been left on the world recently will slowly be washed clean.