I skipped my Spring-cleaning this year. I had every intention of scrubbing my house from end to end, every nook and cranny, and yet somehow it never came to fruition. It’s not that I don’t take full responsibility for shirking my Springly duties. I just blame the trickling and murmuring of dreams below the surface, like Mole in Wind in the Willows who dropped his paint brush covered in white wash on the floor and raced his little feet outside into the sunshine that called his name.
He was craving some adventure. And, so was I.
There is this incredible, yet simple, drawing in my Ernest Shepherd illustrated edition of this book. When I ponder the picture it sets my soul scurrying. Mole has just denounced Spring-cleaning in favor of enjoying all the mysteries and beauty of the season, and, what’s more, it’s contrary to his usual course of action. Alas, Mr. Mole, type-A personality that he is, is hereafter seen dancing with paws held up high to the sunlight. He is literally spellbound.
And that is the last mention of Spring-cleaning for the rest of his story.
Mole’s identity shifts as he learns the art of adventure. He becomes a purer version of himself, perhaps the best version of Mole he could be. If you had asked him a few days prior if he would be living life in a captivating world of discovery, learning to swim and boat, and brave the Wild Woods, well, he would have likely been too consumed by his laundry to answer the question.
His story got me wondering about the pieces that constitute identity. Which elements can we unlock by gifting ourselves the freedom to stretch and explore the good, even the possibility of our best? How much is in the journey to discover and which elements do we leave behind for the better in the process? Where is the “me” behind the daytime version, the wholly naked soul that adds dimension and shape to my observable fragments?
I find glimpses of this naked soul when I read such stories and feel called towards an adventure. Literary critic M. H. Abrams says these glimpses act as windows out of our lives and into an uncharted and unconsidered possibility. Through these windows, we are allowed to suppose something other than what we knew to be true. Other stories, he continues, are more like mirrors. They reveal things as they are, even if they are sometimes gritty and painful.
I meet regularly with a woman whose external identity has been shaped by the circumstances of her illness. She is grappling with who she is and the stuff that has always defined her. This is what she encounters daily. She is vivacious and young, spunky with pink hair and a pointed sarcasm that will have anyone in stitches. These are sticking pieces she has carried over into her new set of revised circumstances. She is also dying of cancer. This fact has drastically altered the components of her identity that made the most sense to her and to others. This is something that both she and I have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Her story acts as a mirror for me to see the reality that I am more than I observe, more than I have tapped into or dreamed about. She does this by showing me who she is underneath the usual defining pieces. She goes deep and quickly because she is nearer to the edge. It also reminds me that I, too, will someday be were she finds herself. I am all the more readily reminded of this because she is within several years of my age.
There are windows in her story as well. She also has provided me with a window into the possibility of being more myself. Dying creates a unique focal point centering on identity. It often strips the pieces that are normally used to identify us as us. The context is narrow. Physical features and abilities are limited and different, and choices are in some ways absent. The irony of this is that the less we are fettered by pieces of identity, the more raw and more ourselves we have the potential to become. She is refining her soul and making the choice to explore things that seem different and often more real.
I know she will be shaped for the better by the journey. Not unlike Mr. Mole, she is discovering elements of herself that are fresh. In both cases, soul searching is much more inviting than the drudgery of housework.