When in my early twenties I thought about all the ways in which I would find happiness later in life, there were plenty scenarios that spanned the genres from romance to adventure, all colored with the wash of fame and fortune, but not one of them involved a washing machine.
Yes. A washing machine. Even back in my late thirties, with kids and house and the taste of suburbia ingrained in my senses I would have never guessed that a washing machine would lift my spirits high enough for me to glimpse a brighter future.
A washing machine that gently spins me out of the summertime blues. Well, more like the onset-of-winter blues, if we want to go into the season of metaphors that mark the turns of the main cycles in life.
I spent the better part of my youth shedding countries and cities and abodes practically with the changes of seasons, but when I got married and had my children, we settled into this house, from which my husband has been going to the same job for nearly a quarter f a century, a rare feat in these times, it seems to me.
Back when we first moved into this house, we filled it with brand new things. Some of these things broke down years ago and we replaced them, once or twice. The house had its own crises, some minor, others major. A new roof, a couple of times, in fact. A new deck. A bathroom redone. Rooms painted. Some by me, too.
Decisions had to be made about allocating funds once the kids went off to college and we weighed the pros and cons of investing more in the house or the future of our children. This was a no-brainer for us, to pour our resources into the future of our children, who were to move on. Which left the house less of a home of our dreams and more as a means to provide a home in the wider world for the kids. In practical terms, this meant that though the bones of the house are still solid, its muscles have slackened and that glow has gone from its skin.
That these things are happening to the house at the same time as they are happening to us as well as we age, it’s an odd comfort and a constant alarm that knows only one ringtone: memento mori. In the last few years, both my husband and I have had brushes with ailments we never heard of in our younger years. Sure we came out of them, but probably a little worse for the wear and tear they left as they ran their course. Our appliances, too, broke down, but could still be repaired to go on, even if, at least to me, they seemed to have lost some of their former power to function predictably or clean or dry or whatever it was that they once did properly.
When it was the washing machine’s turn to go from several small crises to the big one that left it with a dead motor, even though we had a special service contract to fix it, I decided it was time to come clean…. I was tired of the tiny drum in this bleeding-edge version of front loaders from the turn of the century that had me doing several loads practically every day while my sons were teenagers. Even after they left, you could not do all the sheets from a king-size bed in a single load. It was as if when I got that machine, in my mind I was still living the glamorous single life in some cosmopolitan apartment beyond the reach of suburban dreams.
After some work, which might have involved a wee drama at times, I convinced my husband that it was time for a new washing machine. And so I have my shiny new washing machine. With a drum big enough to spin the dirt out of a large family’s laundry. What I don’t have is the large family at home anymore. But there is still laundry.
There is always laundry.
Which at this ripe old age and to my great astonishment, has become the foundation for happiness. Not exactly in the sense of those dreams of old from my younger years. Nope. It’s not even happiness per se. It’s a freedom from happiness, I suppose, much in the way Jack Kornfield already wrote about it in After The Ecstasy, The Laundry.
I happened on this happiness without happiness after all the sadness of living with things around me that I could perceive only as broken. The dreams of happiness, the ledgers of disappointments, the inventories of failures, the manifest of missed opportunities, well, come to think of it, as I watch the drum of my new washing machine turn and turn, are but suds. Life is in the wash.