Day 19: of “Advent Stories“
Muck at Midnight
by Derek Nicol
I was sitting in my basement on a weeknight at 11:56pm, legs crossed on a broken metal folding chair, reading a book I had started six months before.
Vinegar, baking soda, and bottles of tree root destroying chemicals sat around the floor. A mop leaned against the utility sink with a jug of bleach I had opened too many times that week. A drain snake loomed above the sink, nearly touching the lightbulb. The screen of an iPad glowed from atop the dryer, revealing countless browser tabs open with DIY solutions to drain clogs. This would be the 48th hour that I had been mitigating sewage back flow into our basement. I was waiting the prescribed time before running the washing machine to see if I had properly unclogged the p trap beneath the basement floor.
While adjusting the mask I was wearing to deal with sewage fumes, a piece of cardboard I had been using as a bookmark slipped out of my book onto my thigh. I picked it up and examined the hot-pink, painted piece of cardboard with my daughter’s name scribbled on it. Glitter, stickers, marker lines, coated the misshapen board. A closer inspection revealed elements from all three of my kids’ handiwork on this. I imagined their little fingers, innocently marking up this piece of cardboard with no intended audience. Whatever this “bookmark” had been, it wasn’t a gift from them to me, rather, just something I carelessly grabbed off our craft table and stuffed in my book days before to hold the place.
As I sat inches above a mini sea of human waste, I started to laugh explosively, and at the same time, the brim of my mask soaked up tears. I was cry-laughing. Whatever that is. Because that bookmark in all its glorious ridiculousness, led me to reflect on the absurdity of my efforts in life. I took inventory of all I hold dear and don’t deserve to have, and even while sitting in this muck at midnight, I couldn’t help but wallow in delight over my children. And thankfulness to God.
By now the washing machine was draining, and my eyes shot over to the drain, hoping and praying. But to no avail. Just as the clock struck midnight, the drain regurgitated for the umpteenth time. My mettle for this project was shot, but my heart was full.
I sometimes think that contending with poop is literally and metaphorically the business of parenthood. And I thank God that he contended with mine, made me his son, and delighted in me, so that on a Wednesday night in 2021, I could sit in a toxic basement beneath my sleeping family and weep with joy.