Apologies to Shakespeare, but the actual quote is not fit for a school publication and is not as well suited to my purpose. I’ve been having trouble with black spots lately and these experiences in the physical realm have made me realise a spiritual parallel.

The first has to do with vacuuming. The division of labour in our house is very conventional. I mow the lawns, wash the cars, clean the pool and vacuum. My wife cooks, cleans and does laundry … and manages the finances, provides wisdom to the children, provides wisdom to her husband (who often needs it more), educates the grandchildren, manages the arrangements for her ageing parents, and ageing mother-in-law, and is generally both the foundation and engine of our family. I think you get the point.

When vacuuming, I judge my success by the neatness of criss-cross tracks of pile raised and by the speed at which this can be done. My wife judges my lack of success by black spots, those little pieces of dust and detritus that make their homes near the skirting boards and furniture legs. She has noticed them there earlier (I suspect sometimes she lays them as traps) and will point to them as proof of a haphazard approach on my part. And she’s right! And what is worse, the extra time and effort required to ensure they were drawn into the belly of the machine would have been nothing.

Our lives are like that, we have those tiny, but obvious, habits, expressions, attitudes and behaviours that undo in moments the goodness we take so long to perfect. We genuinely project our kindness, generosity, or cleverness which others notice, but then are diverted by a sharpness in our tone, or a failure of empathy, or an unfortunate pattern of turning the conversation back to ourselves. Those are some of my black spots, but I’m pretty sure we all have a fair idea of what ours are.

My wife works on the philosophy of cleaning passed down by her grandmother to her mother and then to her, “if you look after the corners the middle will look after itself”. This too is true in life, by taking a conscious effort to identify and then eradicate our personal black spots, those small but glaring inadequacies, we very quickly build into being the person we want to be and want to be seen to be.

The second has to do with the pool. Each year, around this time, I have a ritual caused by my negligence. We do not use our pool in winter, none of us are stoics, so with lack of use comes lack of attention. The Kreepy Krauly keeps the bottom clear and the cold slows most algal growth, but not all. Stubborn, ugly, slug like black algae creates colonies in the grouting. By the time the pool is just warm enough to enjoy, it is with a view of gross lines of blackish green vegetation. Then out comes the pool brush and into the not quite yet warm enough water goes this man to scrub the grout clean. Then the vacuuming, the addition of algicide, pool shock and elevated chlorine levels. Then the complaints from blonde family members that I have turned their hair green.

If only I had maintained the pool properly through winter none of this would be necessary. Similarly, there can easily be too many times in life where we wait too long to address a problem, and then it is too hard. Issues drop below the surface when times are relatively good and stable, but when trouble comes it disturbs the surface allowing issues to be exposed. The existence of the trouble makes the issues seem worse and harder to deal with. Careful attention to our souls and relationships daily, rather than just in crisis, is certainly the truest way to a calm life.

If only poor Lady Macbeth had known this, that the only way to get rid of the spot is to work to not put it there in the first place.

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