I grew up next door to my paternal grandparents who owned a “filling station.” My grandfather was the generalist car care man, and my grandmother ran the office and all things accounting. He left before sunlight each morning, and he returned just at sundown each evening. I remember often his return to their home. He came in covered in signs and smells of his work day: mostly oil, grease and tire dirt. His clothing, for sure, carried these signs and smells, but I remember mostly his hands–almost black with grease, oil and other kinds of car dirt.
He always said, as he came in, that he was headed to “the lavatory.” Next door at my house, my dad sometimes referred to it as the lavatory, but mostly we called it “the bathroom.” Sometimes, I’d follow my grandfather into “the lavatory” and watch him engage in what was almost a ceremonial of removing the work of the day from his hands and forearms. The smell was strong of what I now know was motor oil and worn rubber. I watched as he filled the sink with hot water and began the tedious process of soaping and scrubbing every inch of his hands and arms below his elbow. Just as a surgeon does this in order to do his work, my grandfather did this as a result of his work. Before long, he didn’t look like the same man. His skin re-emerged, brown and pinkish with tale tell signs of the oil that would remain in the cracks of his weathered skin. He came back into the kitchen looking clean and smelling like Ivory soap.
“Lavatory” is a Latin-English word that means “a place for washing.” That’s exactly what the “lavatory” was for my grandfather, and as he passed through it each evening, it seems to me now that he also passed through an important transition from life out there serving and earning and protecting his life and the life of his family back into the inner sanctum of that life itself. In that space, he would enter back into a life with my grandmother, into their private conversations, into his world of study, relaxation and basic comforts before he began the daily process all over again.
Is there a “lavatory” in your life–not so much a bathroom per se, but a place or a ritual or a daily habit that you engage to help you transition from your outer life back into your inner life or the other way around? Perhaps you’ve never even thought of these transitions as such, but I suspect most of us have them. My grandfather may never have thought about his nightly trip to the lavatory like that, but I am clear that my grandmother would not have welcomed him back into the kitchen without it! The washing and transitioning from outer life to inner life was simply necessary. What are your transition practices, and how do they work for you?
I used to watch my dad do the same thing each night when he came home from the city… Wash the workday away from his face and hands once he got home.