Gathering the basket loaded with damp clothes and towels, I step out onto the patio. I stepped out barefoot knowing the risks, as stray twigs and abandoned bubble wands press into the soles of my feet.
The path ahead is sketchier than the first few steps as I must first cross the mulch, then pick my way carefully through piles the dog has left behind. My toes seek out the paving stones that bridge the mulch, still, I manage to find an errant wood chip or two with the soft spot of my arch. Wincing, I notice it, but I go on. It’s not the first time, nor doubtfully the last.
Resting the basket in the grass, I stretch the line from one side of the fence, around the pulley and across to the other side where it’s anchored. I breathe deeper out here, with the summer sun warming my shoulders and a slight breeze against my cheek. I hang the laundry in my bare feet because honestly–maybe this sounds crazy–it feels like Holy work. The yard there under the clothesline feels like sacred ground, somehow different from the sidewalk by the mailbox, or the patch of grass by the gate.
This same feeling settles over me every single time I do this–shaking out, pinning, sliding on down the line. As I hang my baby’s nightgown I realize how small she still is. I am reminded that she is only 3. Hanging my boys shorts I notice the small stains from their outdoor excursions and the spaghetti we ate a couple of nights back.
I notice not only where my children are in this life but also the loss of the days already past. Marilynne Robinson wrote that “memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it”. I feel that pull in hanging it all out. I rejoice and grieve a little each time I choose this work. I rejoice for the days yet to come, and selfishly, for my husband’s work shirts and slacks that dry nearly wrinkle-free on the line. In choosing this work, I gain a small freedom from the iron.
I know how small these menial thoughts are that drift through my mind as I shake, pin, repeat. It’s a task that can be done without thought and so my mind is freer here to go to other places. God never fails to meet me in the yard, at the clothesline. I find in this ancient practice, a connection to a past I haven’t known. I imagine Mary hanging out Jesus’s worn tunic after he’s spent a day out among the rabble. Perhaps Martha huffed and stewed while she did it; while Mary kicked back in the shade to hear a story from her neighbor.
I don’t know what it looked like for ancient women to do their laundry, or if any of them felt nostalgic about it the way I do. I wonder if the luxury of my life affords me a certain whimsy, that those who do this out of necessity, rather than choice, simply don’t or didn’t experience.
I don’t know why it matters to me at all, except that somehow, hanging it all out to dry roots me in some way to a history that is part of my very beginning.
As I hang the clothes and watch the sun glint through the fabric, I see the way Christ shines through my life. Though I may have damp, wrinkled seasons, His gentle, daily washing of me makes me clean again and again–and again. His love strings me out and leaves me warming in the sun. His breath in me helps my wrinkles to release. The creases are mostly gone after I’ve been hung out to dry. Even when shadow stains remain, I am renewed.
The clothesline at the back of the yard grounds me to the everyday monotony of a housekeeping practice that’s been performed for centuries. The work goes on without end, but I find this work simultaneously mindless and intentional.
I own a dryer, yet some days, I make the choice to take it outside. The work places me firmly inside of a bigger story still unfolding. We’re building a life here, these, the uniform of our days.
I choose the work because I am blessed by the process. I remember my role in this story–woman, mother, wife, follower of the One who has laid the foundation, and sister to the women who have come before, whose hands have held the wrinkles of life and learned to let the Spirit do the work.