What is ubiquitous, indestructible, materializes seemingly out of nowhere and is regarded as a sign of lassitude and neglect?
Well, I’ve given you enough time. If, in the unlikely event you answered “dust” – you are right! We’re talking now not about the residue from dust storms, nuclear fallout or volcanic ash, but rather the pedestrian particles which inundate homes, apartments and living spaces of everyone on this planet. The struggle against domestic dust has been waged for centuries. Battles are won, but final victory can never be claimed. All the brooms, mops, vacuum cleaners, static cleaners, feather dusters and dust rags in the world can be brought to bear in this ongoing struggle, but the results are never conclusive, are at best a standoff. That’s because the enemy is silent, elusive, resourceful and relentless.
Take note of a shaft of light entering a room and how by spotlighting the dust it reveals the degree to which you’re under siege. Beyond that sampling, be assured that countless other such particles are floating all about and will ultimately descend, alighting upon every exposed surface. Their presence is not immediately evident. Masters of disguise they are cleverly camouflaged, assuming the coloration of whatever object they’ve come to rest upon. Only when concentrated upon dark surfaces can they be detected. Extremely vulnerable, once spotted, they are defenseless against the finger that traverses the surface, leaving a telltale trail, ridges of dust on either side. Residue on a moist paper towel or rag reveals how abundant is the coating.
Dust is betrayed when, most brazenly, it coheres into dust balls usually discovered on floors or in distant corners, a stinging rebuke to those who confidently assumed they had gained the upper hand. Spontaneous generation may not explain their origin; still the process is shrouded in mystery. What unseen current of air may have brought these particles together to create such unsightly, formless agglomerations?
Once dust is discovered the impulse to respond is generally irresistible. To ignore it and do nothing would be morally indefensible. Out come the tools of removal which are tasked to gather it together and suck it up from exposed surfaces. The hum of a vacuum cleaner or electric broom is reassuring – proof that a counter-attack is underway.
But alas, this energetic effort, while not without result, and clearly a setback for the adversary, represents more of a morale booster than a solution. Vacuum cleaner bag contents will confirm that a quantity of dust has been removed but will offer no hint of how much proved elusive or settled upon areas largely inaccessible or upon objects too fragile to disturb.
With the skirmish over, both sides can, for the moment rest content. The dust has taken casualties, its advance halted. But it can take comfort in the fact that reinforcements are on the way; that territory yielded will soon be regained. And that all those energetic, confident mortals will themselves succumb – ultimately becoming dust themselves.