We clean rooms and make the beds when guests leave. The more guests checking out, the more beds and rooms we have to clean. There is no consistency to guests coming and going, so sometimes there’s little cleaning, and sometimes there’s a bunch that needs to be done.
The other day there was a mass exodus of guests, so I spent all morning vacuuming rooms, replacing pillow covers, and fetching new sheets. None of the work is too difficult, just time consuming, but I don’t mind.
It would be easy to look at my work sheet for the day and sigh when I see I have seventeen rooms to clean plus toilets. Why complain though? In the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius says “Just as you see your bath—all soap, sweat, grime, greasy water, the whole thing disgusting—so is every part of life and every object in it.”
This is true, and it is therefore entirely good and healthy for the soul to see and clean up messes. I’ve discovered that hostels are a particularly good place to practice this sort of cleaning. This is because all walks of life move through hostels, and, like snails, leave a slimy trail of mess behind them.
There is an ancient bit of wisdom that goes something like this: judge no person until you’ve looked upon every face. I think I’m bungling the saying, but I bring it up only because I see now that I previously understood just the surface of it. When I see a new face in the hostel, I see a mess galloping towards me on the horizon.
The beautiful young Austrian couple—mess.
The Korean man in his forties who lives in New York—mess.
The French family with the little daughter who smiles so brightly even though she’s just lost her two front teeth, who always says “Bonjour monsieur” to me—mess.
I ask, then, am I clean? Do I know a mess only because I alone am spotless? I don’t think so. I see the mess now because I have come to recognize it in myself.