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Laundry Lament

June 6, 2012 | by Rea Bochner

Lessons from the spin cycle.

When it comes to the day-to-day tasks that are part of keeping a home together, there are some I prefer to do more than others. But there is one chore I absolutely, completely, no-holds-barred despise: Laundry.

It’s not the laundry itself that’s the problem – I mean, how hard is it to load a washing machine? It’s the laundry process that makes me insane. I live in an apartment with my husband and two kids under the age of four who can’t seem to get through a meal without getting covered in whatever it is they’re eating (the kids, not the husband). So the laundry piles up, and fast. If I let it go for too long, I can have a Mt. Vesuvius of clothing threatening to explode all over my bedroom.

Thank God, there are washers and dryers on every floor of my building – except mine. If I want to wash our clothes, I have to haul the baskets out of the apartment, take a ride up the elevator, stuff them in the machine, head back downstairs, run up again 35 minutes later to move them to the dryer and then again 52 minutes later to bring it all back to the apartment. Of course this is assuming that the machines all work efficiently, which almost never happens. One of the washes is usually still dripping wet at the end of the cycle, or the dryer decides to just shut off 12 minutes in. One load of laundry usually ends up costing me about ten bucks in quarters.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s not a big deal. What’s she complaining about? But you try going through the process I described with two little kids reaching into the baskets and throwing your whites all over the apartment building or dissolving into a full-blown temper tantrum in the elevator after you tell them they can’t press the alarm button, and you’ll see why I would rather stuff 100 pounds of dirty clothes into the back of my car and drive seven hours to my family’s summer home in Massachusetts so I can do my laundry in peace and quiet, FOR FREE.

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After seven months of trying to keep my chin up about the whole thing, I started feeling really sorry for myself: Everyone else has a house with fancy stainless steel appliances and sparkling new washer/dryers right off the kitchen that they can use whenever they want. Everyone else has big backyards and gorgeous swing sets for their kids. Everyone else goes on fancy vacations. Everyone else has nannies from Tobago who help with the kids and the cleaning and teach them how to cook Jamaican Jerk Cholent. Everyone else has it better than me. My life stinks.

Let’s just say I was not at my best.

Every situation has the potential to be transformed into something holy.

Around this time, I managed to emerge from my swamp of self-pity long enough to come across a story about the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. Whenever he’d come across another Jew, stranger or friend, he would make a point of greeting him joyfully and asking, “How are you?” in order to provide the Jew with an opportunity to respond, “Baruch Hashem, Praise God.” The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that every time and place we are in is an opportunity to offer praise to our Creator and to bring light into the world. Every situation we are put in has the potential to be transformed into something holy.

I couldn’t see what was so “holy” about my laundry situation, except for the mysterious snags in my son’s underwear. I considered the fact that I was providing my husband and children with clean clothes, which enabled them to make a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, by going out into the world looking like mensches. Also, by doing laundry for them, I was showing my family how important they are to me. A Jewish woman has the unique ability to infuse her home with love and warmth, and every small task – even the annoying ones – lays the building blocks for a mikdash me’at, a small-scale version of the Temple, the holiest place in the world.

But I’ll be honest with you; none of those were cutting it.

One afternoon, as I transferred the wash to the dryer, grumbling to myself, I stopped to empty the lint screen before popping in my quarters.

Really, I thought. Would it have killed the person ahead of me to empty this?

And then it hit me.

The Torah teaches that an act of kindness is one of the ultimate expressions of holiness. If I wanted to transform my tedious laundry duties, all I needed to do was be a little kind about it.

After I’d put my dry clothes back in the basket, I took every tiny shred of lint off the screens, so that the next person wouldn’t have to do it. It was a tiny moment, an insignificant act, really, but it changed my entire perspective. Through my least-favorite household chore, I was realizing the potential for holiness in something mundane, which as a Jew, is the reason I’m on this Earth.

Since that day, I have never left a linty dryer behind.

If I told you that I get a thrill every time I have to do laundry now, I’d be lying.

If I told you that I get a thrill every time I have to do laundry now, I’d be lying. I still can’t stand it. I still dream of the day when God will bless me with my own washer and dryer off the kitchen of a big, beautiful house. But my attitude has changed. I no longer lament my lot. I appreciate our cozy little apartment and the luxury of having laundry on-site, even if it is a floor or two up. More importantly, I now recognize the opportunities to be found in the seemingly inopportune places.

It’s amazing what can happen when you throw a little holiness in with the fabric softener. 

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