Cleaning His Basement


The lock on the door is rusty, his key barely wanting to fit into the hole. An awful screech fills the air as he turned the key hard, his hand trembling, his heart pounding. For most of his life, no oil has seen its way into the lock or the dead bolt on the door, or the rusty old hinges. The door screeches its reluctance to his visit here today, a place he seldom visited. There are too many memories here, too many monsters to wrestle with.

A puff of stale, moldy air seeps out of the darkness below, filling his nose with the dark, fetid stench of a place he’d always been terrified to enter, let alone even acknowledge that it exists, deep below the rest of his life.

He’s lived here all of his life, and all of the other rooms, finally, are fixed up and remodeled, reflecting his idea of what a happy house should be. It has been a long journey, but, finally today, he’s ready to tackle the basement. Until today, he wasn’t ready to take this on. But, now, at last, he is.

Large windows, often open to the fresh outside air, and the bright sunlight of happy days, polished wood floors, and the fresh green of house plants fill the rest of the house with brightness and contentment. Cheery art work, and vases of fresh flowers brighten his living space, where he plays his music, read his books, and fixes meals for his friends and family. Books and pictures of family and beautiful places he’s visited crowd the bookshelves, and the shiny floors brighten his heart as he sips his afternoon tea, reads his books, and visits with his friends who drop by.

He’s worked hard to make a good life for himself, to bring the sunshine into this house, brightening the rooms and sweeping away the darkness and gloom of his childhood. He’s landscaped the yard, planting beautiful flowering shrubs and annuals, taking care to arrange secret little refuges under the trees, places where one can simply sit and enjoy the day, soaking up the quiet of the neighborhood, taking in the fresh air and birdsong.

Others come here, too, neighborhood kids and young lovers, looking for a place for some solitude and communion with all the plants and the birds and the squirrels, creatures calling this place their home, their place of safety from the chaos of the world. His friends and neighbors tell him he has a beautiful life, that he inspires them to be happy and fulfilled. Yet, the dark, scary basement is still here, underneath all of the beauty and peace.

It’s taken most of his life to re-order this place, this home of his, to truly make it his space, a place where he can relax, a place he can finally call his own
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Every time the trash man came, he managed to fill up the trash can with the results of his remodeling, his sweeping of the trash, his emptying of closets and shelves, sometimes the remnants of entire rooms, as he cleared away the old, the mildew, the unpleasantness and the dirt of days past. He’s brought in new wood, new sheetrock, windows, and cans of bright, cheerful paint, covering the old and remaking this place into what he really wants, a home, filled with real love, a place where his soul can be, at last, at peace.

Yet, late at night, in the quiet of moonless nights, or when a storm moves in and rattles the windows, rain beating on the glass, he hears the old monsters, the old memories, the old ways, lurking in the darkness of the basement. In the dank of the sunless space, where cobwebs and the occasional rat lurk, the old thinking, the old way of childhood life, still linger.

“It’s always been this way,” they whisper, in the black hours before sunrise. “You’re not good enough,” is the response to the emptiness, the quiet. “You can’t change. You are a failure.”

Even before he could remember, even before he’d thought about arguing with those thoughts, those voices, those words of doubt, those thoughts of worthlessness, those horrid voices filled the house, finding a place in his soul. They ate away at his young heart, even when he was so wanting to find love and acceptance. Yet, that is what he heard, all that he heard, and so, he believed those voices, taking their messages deep into his soul, believing that such words were the truth in his life, the way it would always be.

Part of him knew the truth, yet, he could not escape, not then. And, when he failed in his efforts to leave, the dark voices laughed, reminding me once again that he was a failure, that his despair was just the way life would always be. Hoping for happiness was just ridiculous.

Yet, later on, when he found love, and there were people who came into his life who would love him for what he really was in this world, he began to hear other words, new messages. He began to learn new ways of thinking, new ways of feeling, learning that he wasn’t who he had been, not who he was expected to be as a child, a person who could only know shame, and guilt, and looking at what he wanted to be only as a failure.

Other people opened up the blinds, and washed the grime from the windows to his soul, bringing flowers and sunlight into his life, asking him to breathe the fresh air, and to drink from the pure waters of sacred springs, asking him to truly live.

At first, he hid from those loving people, knowing deep inside that he was a failure, that he wasn’t good enough, not worthy enough to sit in sunlight, and sip rich, sweet tea with others, to think new thoughts, and to actually know love. The old voices were strong, and they had always been there. And those who should have loved him told me that the old voices were right, that he wasn’t good enough to live any differently. It was just the way life was. He should just accept that, accept that he wasn’t worthy of anything else.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he opened the door to the people who came into his life, the people who loved him, and who talked about love, and acceptance. He finally heard them speak, as they told me the idea that life can be filled with joyfulness and with purpose, that we are here to love others, and to be loved, that we are truly children of God, and that the God we should know is a God of love, and acceptance.

He breathed in that fresh air, and soaked up the sunshine they offered, his soul craving the goodness that was offered to him, freely and with love.

His doubts and his wounds, always bleeding, and always painful, soon began to go away, and he began to heal. Life without pain and self loathing was still new, but he began to know what a minute, then an hour, and then a day could be without that darkness hanging over him that life could be more than breathing the fetid, dank air of despair and worthlessness.

And, he began to grow, and to hold his shoulders back, taking in the fresh air, finding strength in the act of loving others, and of being loved. The anxiety, the ever-present cloud of worthlessness began to leave him, then, and he saw life in a new way, in a way of hope and joy, and real purpose. He had something to offer the world, something more than being the sack of rotting garbage, getting in the way of others, no longer being the putrid, worthless trash that the rest of world simply had to tolerate, until he finally died of terminal worthlessness and self-pity.

Yet, the old ways were still there, still living in his basement, still whispering their hateful message to him in the darkest moments of the night.

Today, he opened the lock, pushing open the door, letting the rusty hinges creak and moan as the door swung open, the old spiderwebs and dust of those old years now lit up in the bright sunlight of his new life, his healthy, vibrant life, a life filled with purpose, and meaning, and the intention of doing good works, being a part of the real world.

His friends came behind him, their hands filled with brooms and mops, and fiery torches, following him down the steps into the darkness, into the basement of all of his fears and doubts, and the old voices that still called to him in the dark times in his life.

They set to work, sweeping and cleaning, and sacking up the filth and the grunge of the old times, the old voices. The dumpster outside was soon filled with old, stinking trash. They ordered another dumpster, and then, another, filling them up with all the old memories, and the old ways, and the old, poisonous litanies that had filled his childhood with all of its anger, and rage, and degradation and loathing that they could find.

As he and his friends worked, they sang, their voices filling the rapidly changing darkness with hope and love and community, songs of love and happiness filling their hearts with the satisfaction of getting a dirty job finished, of cleaning out the cesspools of one’s old ways, and bringing into his life a basement filled with purpose, with joy, and with the love that a good life has, a place of contentment and vibrancy, a place where good things are nurtured, and allowed to grow into their full potential.

Soon, the dark, moldy basement of his house, once filled with those old ways of looking at life, the nightmares of despair and hopelessness, was transformed into that last room in his house to know the sunlight, the music, and the warmth of love and satisfaction of a happy, productive life.

Their work done, they climbed the stairs, ready for their feast, their celebration of a great day of cleaning, of the purging of the old ideas, the old ways, the old voices of disapproval and bitterness.

Surrounded by his friends, his heart now filled with love and happiness, he said goodbye to all that, all that darkness and voices in the past.

“Begone,” he yelled. “You no longer run my life. You are released, and I now let you go.”

He took the old lock, rusty and seldom used, no longer needed, and threw it in the last of the dumpsters containing all of the trash, all of the bitterness of the old life, knowing he didn’t need to lock the basement anymore. All of the monsters, and all of that evil was gone. Instead, his basement now was truly part of his home, filled with all of the love in the world, and all of the happiness in his heart.

6/23/2014
Neal Lemery

2 thoughts on “Cleaning His Basement

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