At the fruit stand across the highway from my turn off I see an old man sweeping every day, sweeping, until the lot is clean. Every day the trees litter, the leaves blow back across, and he sweeps it clean once again.
His once tall back is curved now, in a never-ending stoop, and his white head bobs in rhythm with his arm. I wonder how many days he has done this, restored order to his corner of the world, fought back the chaos and encroaching entropy with his broom.
How much courage does it take to wrest order from chaos, day after day, never letting it win?
We come home, after a week away. I see signs of how much we fight against chaos, day by day in all the places that it has taken over in just one week. The balcony is piled high with fallen leaves the drainpipes clogged with them and the mud backed up behind. Bat guano litters the sidewalks. I’m ankle deep in fallen tamarind leaves outside the kitchen door. In the kid’s bathroom the ants have moved in, excavated the foundations around the doors and left huge piles of black dirt and sawdust on the floor to make room for their new home.
The weeds, the weeds taking over the garden. Without us here to hold it back, this house would be swallowed up by chaos. That’s how it was when we found it. Only our presence and diligent tending keeps it orderly.
Every day I fight the long slow slide to oblivion that is within myself also. I hold back the darkness and fight the monsters in my mind. When I was younger, they often won. “Meaningless”, they whispered. “Everything is meaningless and chasing the wind. Why bother? You will only have to do it again.”
It’s when I accept that it will have to be done again, and again, that I start to win. But with that is the understanding that just because I will have to shoulder my burden again tomorrow, and the next day, doesn’t make today meaningless. Today’s work may have only built the endurance I need to defeat tomorrow’s monsters. I may have nothing to show for it. But when I am facing down a monster, I will find myself reaching deep down and gathering into my center all those days when I didn’t quit, when I gave my future self strength, and I will be able to stand and face the monster, because I know I can.
I think that’s why it takes so much courage to live well. It takes courage to decide that keeping my part of the world clean swept and beautiful matters. It takes courage to do it every day. It takes courage to seek to be strong enough to hold firm when the storms of life try to blow us down, to pick up our broom and hold back the things we can, to endure the things we can endure, and clean up after the storms of life blow through.
Because it’s not meaningless. I finally know this. It is not a waste of time to bring order and beauty into a chaotic world or to stand for something, or to work to make things better. It’s hard, and tiring, and often discouraging. But never meaningless.