Throughout the drawn-out process of moving house, it seems that almost everyone I know has sympathetically opined that "it's the second most stressful thing you'll go through in your life", with the first being divorce. I'm not sure where everyone has apparently sourced this piece of information, but it's become a modern axiom - at least in well-fed Western countries where the fear of war, starvation, extreme poverty or genocide has receded into a comfortable background. In any event, I disagree. Moving house was far more stressful than my divorce.
"It's like the fifth circle of Hell", Clever Colleague suggested helpfully.
"What gets punished in the fifth circle?" I asked, warily.
CC furrowed her brows. "Actually, I don't know. It just seemed like a good, mid-level sort of Hell. Would you prefer the seventh circle?"
Unknowingly, CC was right on the money. The fifth circle of Dante's Inferno is where the wrathful and slothful are sent for punishment. (I'm a prime candidate in both departments, alternating my spare afternoon hours between road rage and siestas.) Of course, that's not the only place that us lazy bums can end up. The other is Purgatorio.
Dante envisioned purgatory as an island of concentric terraces rising upwards out of the Southern Oceans. Each sin gets its own terrace, where the wicked endure various degrees of tortuous suffering in the name of spiritual growth. The punishments, ironically, fit the crimes, and therefore we find the Proud struggling to hold their shoulders up under the weight of huge boulders, the Gluttonous abstaining from food and drink... and the slothful, running in perpetuity to atone for their laziness on Earth.
I was struck by the comparison. Rather than being Hell, moving house is basically a form of Purgatory on Earth, where we are forced to confront our months or years of slothful housekeeping and haphazard storage. Thus, for over a month, Clever Partner and I were constantly running to atone for our sins. We marvelled with the hindsight of a soul in Purgatory - didn't we know that the oven should have been cleaned every six months? Could we not have forseen the problems inherent in simply shoving unwanted items out of the way to the top of bookshelves or underneath tables? Should we not have realised that our failure to properly clean out five years' worth of accumulated junk from various expat flatmates would result in a mountain of detritus that would take the council three collections to dispose of?
Well, apparently not. We didn't, and, considering the degree to which comparisons between moving house and Hell are readily accepted, nobody else does, either. And now that we have worked out way through Purgatory to the Paradise of the New House, let us bow our heads and pray:
"May we always remember to scrub the grout,
Have the wisdom to unblock the downspout.
Free us from rising damp and insect hordes,
From leaking taps and rotten old floorboards.
May we never seek to store things overhead
Atop shelves and cupboards, or below our bed.
Deliver us from black-spot mould
And, please, before this house is sold
Shall we ever strive to clean, and then
Roll up our sleeves and clean again."