Like dirty laundry airing in the front yard, the brightly lettered truck advertised our Problem from the driveway. It was a heavy traffic time of day for our neighborhood, people coming home from work, walking dogs, stopping to gape at the goings-on of our house. Maybe a giant rat exterminator truck isn’t as bad as a termite tent when it comes to neighborhood spectacles, but it stopped traffic on our street. Truck and crew spent two hours diagnosing, removing and preventing the incursion of critters. Saws ripped, nail guns blasted and men crawled under the house and up ladders. Better traps were laid with better bait. The exterminator’s website says, “It’s a dirty job, and we love to do it!” I pulled out my checkbook and paid them for their dirty work.
Today is my fifth and last post about the rats. I hope that what we’ve done so far will bring this project to an end, but I also know the rats may not be gone forever. Though they are more disturbing, rats have become for me like all things in life that you tackle only to have to tackle again (like dirty dishes and laundry and yard work). It doesn’t matter how many times you do laundry, ultimately it piles back up on you. With each sunrise, we wake to work. Though the enormity of that work can be depressing and overwhelming at times, giving into hopelessness or staring down the pile and wringing hands doesn’t really do us any good. At some point, we have to muster the energy to eliminate the pile even if it’s gone only to return again. Whether my rats return again or not, rats in the proverbial sense will always dog and challenge me. They are the unexpected burden that feels just heavy enough to incapacitate me. When I find myself feeling helpless and overwhelmed, put upon by an unexpected chore, I also find myself at an important crossroads. Along one road is the mythic Sisyphus rolling his rock uphill in an existential futility. Down the other road is a person rendered inert, discouraged and paralyzed by the heaviness of the burden.
Then (glory to God) in the middle of the crossroads, is another way altogether: Jesus and the Cross, reminding me that at the heart of all this work is not futility but the work of re-creation (getting rid of rats has a lesson for me after all). Kathleen Norris, in The Quotidian Mysteries, writes, “There are days when it seems a miracle to make dirty things clean.” A miracle. That sentiment is my “eureka” moment. In the midst of what seems overwhelming and discordant is a miracle not to be overlooked. Because, in Christ, all things are made new (they are re-created), the labor that greets us each sunrise is not unlike what Christ does tirelessly in his own work. He re-creates dirty hearts into clean hearts, and he transforms chaotic lives into hopeful ones. Making dirty laundry clean; drawing order out of chaos; converting something messy into something manicured; or ridding a house of rats are all the work of re-creation. When I participate in this kind of transformation I, like Christ, make something dissonant into something harmonious. That is miracle. And when I can approach my burdens and my work in the spirit of the cross, I get to participate in the miracle Christ demonstrates every day inside my own heart. He makes clean what is dirty. He turns what seems like chaos and disorder into something beautiful.
“It’s dirty work, but we love to do it,” say the letters on the side of the exterminator’s truck. It is a worthy credo.