Anyone who has been on a working farm knows that, like childbirth (or so I imagine), there’s a lot more to it than is normally shared. In fact the human animal is itself no less prone to the vulgarities of waste and accommodation. I say this not despairingly but rather as a confession of the hard reality we are from time to time obliged to address. From the instant of birth the child is devoted solely to three things: ingesting, expunging and sleep, normally in that order. The miracle that is life translates the first two ingredients into the ineffable. As for the rest – pardon the pun – that is, the sleep and the accommodation in which it takes places, that’s up to us to take care of, on our own, unassisted by anything as mystical as creation or the unfolding mystery of the universe. I speak of housekeeping.
The state of one’s accommodation is for some a significant reflection of what it is that sparks the animus, the theory related no doubt to the axiom concerning the proximity of cleanliness and godliness. My dear late mother practically owned the adage about eating off the kitchen floor! Hers however was a hard bargain in that it was her kitchen, her living room and overall her house. I hadn’t the need to suffer this geographic indignity (which by the way eventually overtook my father whose dominion was progressively isolated to the garage, the basement and the backyard porch) because I didn’t live with my parents after the age of 13 when I was sent to school. I have reason to believe my father adjusted to his expulsion from the draperies and fine furnishings through the vehicle – once again, pardon the pun – that is, his automobile which he relished driving vast distances at a moment’s inspiration. It was lucky for him he had relatives and the resource or what my mother summarily dismissed as “moose pasture” (being 200 acres of land) in New Brunswick to which he regularly returned with the visible pride of a landlord.
Yet as much as one may mock the preoccupation of others with cleanliness, it is customarily an aspiration to which many ascend. Never for example did I hear my father complain about the spotless kitchen or other living quarters. Indeed if one can be judged by the example one sets, his was as much a conviction as my mother’s even though his was not unsurprisingly dedicated to the automobile which he routinely vacuumed, washed and polished.
Keeping offensive elements at bay was something I oddly encountered while studying for the bar at Osgoode Hall. There was a large wrought iron fence surrounding Osgoode Hall. The peculiar feature of the fence was that the entrance gate enclosed a pole with a series of horizontal rotating bars which intertwined with fixed stationary bars. Getting through the gate was a bit of an entertainment, like playing a game at a fair, twirling about the heavy iron mesh. Considering how ancient the fence is, I never ceased to be amazed that the stiles turned. If you haven’t already guessed the fence was designed to keep out animals not people. My understanding is that when Osgoode Hall was constructed on Queen St W at the corner of what is now University Avenue, it was a field surrounded by farmland. The stiled entrance was to keep out the rambling cows.
The root of cleanliness is as fundamental as our agricultural heritage – even to the extent of coincidence with such esoteric convention as law. Nothing escapes the necessity of perfection – or at least the preservation of its appearance. When set among a pile of dung we nonetheless sustain the delicacy that is cleanliness, the unalterable regard for perfection. It is upon this foundation of rectitude that our history was constructed. For those who reckon this is no more than the transition from cow chips to bull roar, I say regain the cultivation of life that raises it from the natural to the purity of the ethereal. Flawlessness is more than mere polishing. It is sublimity. It is a degree of excellence worth the effort.