Epiphanies at the Laundromat

 Today, for Christians, is the traditional Feast of the Epiphany, a celebration of the Christ’s manifestation to gentiles; a sign, we’re told, that this child was a realized archetype for all people to access and imitate, because they could— regardless of their color, status, location, or relatives.

When I was growing up, it was a day that held lingering sparks of Christmas magic, treats, and ritual, before the season sputtered out to the annual and predictable blur of black, white, and gray life till Valentine’s Day.

As a word, epiphany has come to signify a graced moment of insight that flashes and floods our awareness, bringing us to a deeper knowing and understanding of connections, as though we’d somehow been lifted by sentient angels and gently flown across the insuperable gap described by Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. We’re here and the next moment we’re there, the big now/here; no leaping required. Zap. Our heart, mind, and spirit possess a new piece of spiritual reality we never even knew existed till…now. We’re changed.

I like the word epiphany: the mystery it touches and honors, the noticing and openness it often rewards, and the event itself, like a great big surprise party for the spirit. It happens instantly, but sometimes only after a journey of a thousand miles, or moments, or years.

The Wise Seekers in the Epiphany story recognized that something elemental about humans and their potential to love and form community had changed. They were willing to trust their intuition and set out to discover the beckoning unknown, an invitation all of us are sent, daily, if we’re open and willing to switch perspectives, which means questioning and sometimes setting down old stories, responses, behaviors, and habits, to clear the way for epiphanies.

Our dryer has been on the blink, on the fritz, and on strike this week; like a marketing pundit, it’s been all spin and no heat.

As a teenager, my husband owned and maintained a laundromat—a way to save money for college—and this made him, in time, a skilled specialist in the surgery and healing of laundering machinery. Whether his diagnostic proficiency and surgical skill have endured all these years are questions we pondered as we awaited the delivery of machine parts his preliminary analysis led him to order from online purveyors. 

As I’ve written before, I’m one who finds solace in schedules. Along with house-cleaning, there is endless laundry punctuating the daily round. The dryer is my appliance deity, because it actually and forcefully removes the hair and dander the washer just good-naturedly washes and rinses. There is such great satisfaction in extracting the dryer screen and removing a small dog-sized mat of hair, knowing that the laundry has been rendered danderless once again.

Such tender moments have not been enacted this week, however. Instead, I’ve been loading wet laundry into baskets and heading to the nearest laundromat for some dryers-on-steroids assistance. (Seriously. I had to stand on a chair to reach a sock in the back of one of these behemoths.) 

This is not a hugely painful ordeal, nor does it truly tempt the engagement of my skill for dramatically over-exaggerating the insignificant, but it seemed another task that I initially labeled one more interruption to my writing, and therefore resented.

I packed my notebook and camera beside the laundry and off I went. I arrived, loaded the dryers, sat for a moment, and began to hear a familiar voice in my head. Friar Lawrence. Whenever I’m in “grumble mode,” he visits. Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 3: Romeo is desperate about events, having killed Juliet’s cousin and been banished by the Prince, and the older, wiser Lawrence points out all the reasons these things may be perceived as blessings.

…thy Juliet is alive, For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead; There art thou happy: Tybalt would kill thee, But thou slew’st Tybalt; there art thou happy too: The law that threaten’d death becomes thy friend And turns it to exile; there art thou happy: A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back; Happiness courts thee in her best array…

My inner Friar Lawrence always forces me to revisit the colors, perceptions, labels and significance I’ve chosen and assigned events, if they haven’t left me feeling grateful.

Deep breath. Notice. The laundromat was bright and clean. The plants were plastic, but not dusty, and there were chairs, folding tables, baskets on wheels…very welcoming. (There art thou happy!) The Jolly Yellow Dryers made quick work of my laundry and I had time to write, take pictures, and chat with fellow customers. (There art thou happy!) I began to feel grateful I had laundry to clean, a car to take me to the laundromat, and the money to pay for it. (There, there, and there art thou happy!)

I observed an elderly man and gradually noticed he exuded light; his gentleness and age choreographed a peaceful flow of energy as he moved between washers and dryers, folded his clothes, shared polite conversation…I noticed his laundry included women’s clothes as well as his own, and when he sat beside me I learned his story. He softly spoke of his wife, and of her stroke. How life changed suddenly, for both of them. Now, he does the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the caretaking. No complaint; no resentment; just loving, peaceful adjustment and acceptance…enlightenment.

Chopping wood, carrying water, but enlightened.

Epiphany.

The quality of Phillip’s surgical expertise proved excellent; the dryer is again restored to health; and I am changed.

A good week.

 

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