Death, taxes and, well, the laundry – three unavoidable and predictable parts of life. A few years ago my family carved out a new life in a little village, in a very old house. Our hundred year old plus home, nestled in the historic district of a small shrimping village was built in 1908. Mersea’s original owner, its only owner before us, died in the home’s parlor at the glorious age of 95. (I chose the name Mersea as a way of recalling my gratitude whenever I reference my home. I am, in fact, extremely grateful we have found one another.)
It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was love very soon after we wrapped our heads and hearts around one important realization. Beauty lay behind the fringes of the dirt. Redemption could be found on the frayed edges of the brokenness. Restoration would require patience and sweat equity. It would demand waiting. And it would call for trust. But it would return much more than it could ever have asked of us.
This was a transaction of the heart. And we would be reminded that love wins everytime.
We decided to love an old house. It loved us back in multiples, compounded daily. And as love always does. Love brings mystery and hope. Regeneration and re-birth.
Love begets love. The chipped paint, holes in the roof and signs of aging spoke nothing of the soul of this house. Appearances can be deceiving. It is well to look past superficials. Past the surface. To seek until you find what it is you didn’t know you were looking for.
With passions for art and for cooking, we removed the washer and dryer from the kitchen, a strategy we decided would create more room for very high priorities. Wall space previously taken up by these old and unattractive appliances would give way to art and an antique dresser.
Believing we’d renovate a portion of the house and add a nice little laundry room in the weeks or months to come, the decision seemed livable if not preferable for the short term. A couple of years laer we still live without a wash or dryer. And without a dishwasher.
This is not about inconvenience, though there has been a healthy dose of that. We did in fact chose to live in a very old house in a very old shrimping village 45 minutes from a laundromat and 30 minutes from a grocery store. We chose to live quietly and simply, in a town without a stoplight or a drive-thru.
This is the story of a friendship. A friendship birthed from inconvenience, from need and want. The unintended consequences of a seemingly small decision with a big beautiful outcome. One of a rich and lovely friendship.
I load mountains ofour dirty laundry into enormous black garbage bags, heave the pounds and pounds of the soiled parts of my living into my Subaru and take them to Brenda. Life is dirty. Life is messy. I drive the 45 minutes to what I lovingly call “The Fluff and Fold” once or twice a week. We seem to have more laundry than the average family of part-time empty nesters. Aren’t all empty nesters part time. I am certain I am her best customer. Not a label to be proud of. Not at all.
Week in and week out, I give her our towels, soiled jeans, my husband’s piles of dirty Mountain Khakis, blood stained pillow cases (the result of my daughter’s recent wisdom tooth extraction) and all the other dirty parts of our living. Well, those that will fit in an industrial washing machine. You get the picture.
And in return she showers me with gentleness, though she is strong, and kindness — though the work itself is not kind to her. And with her unique brand of joy. It is not the fresh, folded, sorted and cleaned clothes that are the only gift. Yes, this is a wonderful by product of paying to have your laundry done. Rather, it is the gift of shifting perspective. It is the gift of knowing her. Of hearing her story unfold. Often I linger. Often I listen. Always I leave her presence, refreshed and a little more alive.
What was a business transaction, is now a transaction of the heart. It evens a bit.
We are two women, two mothers, sojourners whose paths have crossed. We are sisters, members of the body. Yes, we are different people. Yes, there are disparities in the externals.. They are visible and invisible. But we are friends. And any differences do not matter at all.
Last week I told her that soon we will renovate our house and finally install a washer and dryer. She seemed skeptical. I have been saying this in a hopeful tone for years. Life has honed her ability to discern truth from lie and fact from fiction. She is wise. She has a healthy degree of skepticism. She should. She has likely never seen a woman drag her clothes to the laundromat to have them washed and folded, for years on end. I am an anomaly. (I cannot recall if I have told her that we do not have a dishwasher either.) I will remind her tomorrow and I’ll watch her half smile creep up the side of her face. I’ll watch her shake her head and laugh a small curt laugh. And I will delight in her sweet spirit of dry humor laced with thinly veiled sarcasm.
Yes, we both know how many washing machines and dryers we could have bought with the money I spend at “The Fluff and Fold”. But what price can you put on friendship? If we never had the need, I would never have this gift of Brenda. Life without her seems less than.
She has mentored me in the lost arts of optimism, hope and perseverance. And shown me the hospitality of grace.
The object that I had longed for, this basic necessity of an American home in 2016, a laundry room, seems to fade now in its importance. Brenda is an integral part of my life. An important part of my week. I know her story and she knows mine. I have prayed with her during times of pain and despair. This single mother, citadel of the laundromat, symbolizes strength. She presses on during the hard days. Remains hopeful. Clings to optimism and offers me kindness and grace.
This is the essence of hospitality. Right in the middle of the whirling oppressive heat, the agitated washing machines, the coin changers and dirt. This is how to live true hospitality — with a countenance that remains welcoming no matter what battle is being waged.
Who are those souls I have failed to notice in my refusal to linger. What of those beautiful, yet lost moments I have failed to savor in my need for speed and efficiency. What have I missed, left behind in the steam of the whirling machines.
Seek with me the soul who is thirsting and in need of friendship and conversation. Look with me for ways outside of our homes to offer spiritual hospitality. Pray with me, for eyes to seek and show mercy to the tired and lonely.
How often have I missed hospitality on the run. On the go. Mid-stride and mid-stream. How often have I let my plenty create a gulf between potential relationships in my own life.
This country is deeply divided. Often the differences between you and me, between Brenda and those outside the could easily be left to grow deeper, left to create a greater chasm. The gulf between us becoming deeper and wider by the day.
But Jesus shows us the healing and redemption are found at the well, on the road to Samaria, by the side of the leper. He has gone before and way is made.
If there were ever an important time, a critical time to go into the laundromat, the corner bar, the convenience store, the roadside stand and be a friend, make a friend it is now.
Brenda withstands hours on her feet, in the heat, six days a week and goes home at night to single parent three children. I am knowing her story a little more every day. If I ask, she tells it. If I listen, she share it.When I slow down, I am rewarded with relationship.
Recently I showed her family wedding pictures and pictures of my dog. I needed to tell her my story too. I apologize and felt embarrassed for bring her the particularly smelly porch pillows that my old dog had nearly ruined.
Life’s dirt and pain serve as a tether between us. The lifeline of the raw and honest is a braided cord of three strands.llaundromat are insignificant, superficial and unimportant. We have a long way to go toward healing as a nation. Perhaps the only place or just the best place to start, is in the way we see the lady at the drive-thru, the attendant at the gas station, the teller at the bank or the barista at Starbucks. (My middle son works at a popular restaurant in Charleston. Recently he confided in me he feels judged as less than by the people he serves.) We can do better. We are better. We can be the people of hospitality everywhere we go.
Tomorrow when I leave “The Fluff And Fold” I will yell out “love ya”, over the din of loud and hot machines. I know Brenda will be there. I know her hours, her schedule, her work ethic and the fact that she is never not there.
Perhaps if we begin to offer genuine hospitality in the laundromats of our lives, we can begin to diminish the gulf that exists, that is in fact growing, between us and them. Between our neighbors and ourselves. Between people who are walking out the gift of living life beside us, not behind us.
We are children of God. Created in His image. With the sweetest of lessons to learn about being human. And they are taught in love by the people in our path. Not left in our wake. When we wake up and listen and love and linger, in humility and with a right spirit, we are changed. We are molded. By one another and by God. Into the people of God.
We begin to close the gaps with love. Diminishing differences that never mattered any way. And tenderly highlighting those things which make us kindred. One soul, embracing another soul. Opening the door, easing the burden, lifting up the downcast and washing the feet of the weary traveler.
One day Mersea will have a shiny new washer and dryer. One day I will throw in a small load of delicates, wash, fold, sort and put away my own clean clothes. Smell the detergent and hear the sweet vibrations and roar of the machine cleaning my dirty life.
One day I will stop by the laundromat to visit my friend Brenda. Ask her about her three children. Hug her and look her in the eyes. And receive from her the gifts she so freely gives..
Hope, faith and love. The greatest of these is love.