Sunday, November 8, 2009
The Zen of Hanging Out the Laundry
It's been 50 years since I first read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," as a callow youth in my high school A.P. English class, but much of it resonates with me today, as I lead my retirement life, far more than it did then. One line, in particular, came back to me this morning, as I noticed my thoughts while hanging out the week's laundry in our backyard:
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
Hanging out the laundry has become almost a meditation for me. As I carry out this nearly mindless activity, my mind wanders and I follow that wandering with interest, noticing where it takes me. Today, I noticed that, as I often do after I've hung all the laundry, I was counting how many of my T-shirts and underpants I'd hung out, in this case, it was seven of each. Usually when I do this, I remark (to myself) on how many days it's been since we last did our laundry, but this morning, I found myself instead thinking that a week of my life had passed since I'd last hung out the laundry. From there my mind went to the line from J. Alfred Prufrock and I thought: am I measuring out my life with laundry loads?
Perhaps. For years, I've experienced a similar feeling of time passing every Fall and Spring when switching out storm windows and screens: "Another spring is here and a winter gone; didn't I just do this? Has it really been six months?"
Ironically, I've never really experienced the passage of time on those official occasions when we note them: birthdays and anniversaries. No, it's these periodic details of everyday life that seem to remind me that my life is passing.
On a more practical note: weather permitting, we actually hang out our laundry throughout the year, even on dry, sunny winter days. As the laundry hamper begins to fill, we check out the next few days' forecast and if it looks like we're going to have a mostly sunny day with a low likelihood of precipitation, we plan to do a laundry on that day. TIP: We actually hang our socks on an indoor drying rack, which is less time-consuming than pinning each sock on a clothes line. This has the added benefit of making it easier to match pairs and spot that a sock has "gone missing" and search for it right then and there.
We take great satisfaction in using solar and wind energy to dry our laundry instead of using our gas-dryer. (See The Clothesline Revolution.) And, I appreciate the opportunity to meditate, noticing where my mind takes me at these peaceful and otherwise mindless times.