September 1, 2008
A life line
Today I put up a clothesline. I washed and then hung the sheets and t-shirts and underwear up in the bright sunshine. It was almost meditative. I paid attention to my laundry -- the pillowcases with the hand-crocheted trim that my friend made for me; the comfy pants that I wore almost every day at the beach; the tablecloth we used for our outdoor brunch yesterday; my favorite pajamas. Usually, I just toss it all in the dryer without a second, or first, thought. But this little act of hanging up the wash was an occasion for thanksgiving, for the clothes I have, for the remembrances of friends and good times, for awareness of the warmth of the sun and the blue of the sky.
I know that, in many places, a clothesline is a necessity and a chore, something that takes time and energy: lugging the wet clothes out, hoping that it will not rain, washing and hanging and folding enough clothes for a whole family, and then doing it all over again the next week. For me, though, it feels like a little luxury, something unnecessary, almost frivolous, indulging my memories of childhood, and simpler times and places where the sheets smelled like sunshine.
And as we approach September 11, I find myself wondering where we would all be if the President had urged us to hang out our laundry instead of telling us to hang out at the mall and shop. Maybe we would have come sooner to an awareness of the need to conserve energy, to live closer to the land in our own ways, to give thanks for the small goodnesses of life. Instead, we got bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger mortgages, bigger national debt, and bigger conflict. Is my clothesline a life-line? I don't know. Does it make much difference in the world? No, of course not. But a million of them might. And as Rabbi Tarfon once taught: “You are not required to finish the work. But neither are you free to desist from it.”