Laundry, as a chore – its sorting, washing, drying, folding, stacking, and tucking away – is one of life’s necessaries. It simply must be done in order to be prepared for all of our dailies: work, play, cooking, cleaning, and comfortable rest. Once upon a time, laundry, in all its multi-stepped, never-ending cycles, was almost more than I could manage.
Not so today.
Just now, for me, all those steps are more soothing than stressful. I’ve learned the stress was really more about time and less about the task itself. With four boys – and all their multitude of socks – the drudgery was more about the sheer quantity of the laundry than disdain for doing it.
Today, strange as it may sound, I celebrate laundry.
I feel gratitude for the tidy task of it. The satisfying snap of a towel. Overcoming the dilemma of a fitted sheet. The delight when every sock entering the washer finds it way out of the dryer as well. The small victory of actually washing, drying, folding, and stowing a load all in the same day.
Folding laundry is like a moving meditation. Pull. Fold. Smooth … Fold. Smooth. Stack … Pull. Fold. Smooth … Fold. Smooth. Stack. My mind feels free to go elsewhere even as it stays exactly in the moment. I am centered. Calm. Mindful and relaxed in the repetition of movement and years of practice. Some of my best writing ideas come as I pull clean, warm laundry from the basket.
There’s a metaphor for life somewhere in the smoothing of wrinkles. The acceptance of stains. The reliving and memory of the last week through the clothing we wore. Memories of a dinner out. A successful day at work. A granddaughter’s overnight visit.
Maybe the pleasure I feel comes from more time, or maybe it’s a newfound appreciation for the uncomplicated and routine. There’s hope and happiness for me in simple tasks. There’s peace and a sense of purpose found in the curved folds of stacked towels.
A celebration. Sorting my way through darks and lights and cycles. Alone with my laundry, my thoughts and my love.
Still life as meditation. I am this moment. Breathing. Lost in the layering, the filling of frame, the lilt of the light. This space.This delicate movement. This sculpture of light and shadow, form and feeling, vulnerability and hope.This me. Being. Seeking balance. Finding tiny miracles. The curve of a stem. The twist of a leaf. The passion of a petal. Assembled here. In the focus. In the breath. In the now. In the knowing. Still. Happy.
The light creeps only so far now across the grass out back before dropping below the tree line for the night. The pumpkins are all but ready to pick, and the chickens go to roost earlier and earlier. One last, lone daisy stands sentry alongside their coop.
There’s a certain poignancy in the air, a wistful smell of time gone by and the browning of leaves. A cycle completed, the season’s growing weary, silently drifting toward dormancy. Each tree’s a kaleidoscope with colored confetti puddling at its base. One last hurrah and farewell celebration.
There’s poetry in October. Every year I appreciate it more than I did the year before and the year before that, oohing and aahing in all the appropriate places, of course, but also nestling a bit in its nuance – the just so wisp and flutter of a falling leaf and the cacophony of crows, feeling momentary nostalgia for the passing of another September.
Both inside and out, there’s readying afoot and comfort in routines. Burrows blanketed. Woolens hauled from the attic. Wood stacked. The crockpot looks forward to stews and soups as soon we’ll be slow cooking our way through hibernation. We’re getting sleepy, dozing a bit through the game on Sunday and sleeping just a couple minutes more under heavier blankets.
In the increasing absence of warmth, I time my walk for the late afternoon sun on the road. Even as we’re getting ready to pull the rakes out from the shed, we’re eyeing the snow shovels and windshield scrapers, knowing they’ll get their turn before too long.
Still, there’s decisions to be made: when to rake, how to dress the scarecrow, and what to eat at the fair. Just yesterday, I found a rare chestnut, polishing it on my shirt – evidence there’s both finding and losing in this month of October.
I tucked the chestnut – along with a bit of hope – into my pocket on the way home.
It’s been 54 years since my first day of school and only 12 months or so since my final first day. This year, there’s an absence. I’m absent. There’s a piece of me missing. A piece, I’m learning, only I can find.
Throughout all those years of study, the milestones I’ve reached and degrees I’ve earned, and the many opportunities for both teaching and being taught – I like to think I’ve always been a learner.
There’s so much to know, to understand, to experience. Retirement is more than a chance to spend my time in new ways, it’s a chance to occupy my mind, to learn by doing, to think. To extend. Elaborate. Expand. To busy my mind with ideas. Questions. Possibilities and curiosities.
To walk all those talks I gave about being a life-long learner.
I sit, just me and my notebook, and 30 minutes of wondering.
What do I want to know and be able to do? What are my essential questions?
Project-based learning. Experiential learning. Independent study. Education by design. Depth of knowledge. Just Dewey it.
The teaching philosophies I believed in as an educator still apply. To me. For me.
I suppose it’s true to say the older I get, the more generalized anxiety I feel – especially as relates to my health. One scare too many, I guess. Near-misses and almosts, thankfully, but they’re the cause and culprit of anxiety that now goes from zero to 60 faster than my car. Covid hasn’t helped, of course. I’m sometimes only one small headache or throat-tickle away from a full-on, full-alert, oh-my-gosh-I-should-get-tested reaction.
Safe to say, the cause exaggerates the effect.
Walking gives me a moving moment or two of peace, a respite from the thought spiral, a shift of focus from myself to the great big, wide open out there.
A walk from within anxiety … to without.
For me, it’s all in the noticing. Moving from big feelings to small details. An intentional pause to find nature’s bits and pieces I might ordinarily walk by – looking without seeing. The way morning light caresses a leaf. How fall colors brighten the poison ivy first. Berries. Nuts. Seeds all but ready to release and drift aloft. Itty bitty oak leaves. And the tiniest little wildflowers I never did see – or notice before.
And that thirty-minute walk takes me both outside into the world and out of my own head altogether. Call it self-medication. An intervention.
One foot in front of the other. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hope.
I love your windows wide open and the billow of your breezes in my white curtains. I love the last of summer’s flowers, both the gathering and the plunk of them in a pale blue Ball jar on my kitchen counter. A bit worn out, like summer itself, but still up for one more celebration before the leaves begin to color and claim center stage.
September, you need not try as hard as June, July, and August. You’re simultaneously an end and a beginning. No need to be something you’re not – neither summer, nor fall – but summer and fall. You’re a burst of yellow school buses up the road, irrationally blue skies, and a few final barefoot walks around the yard. You’re one more trip to the beach and a bonfire for Sunday’s cookout.
What would you be, September, without a new notebook? A couple more morning minutes under the warmth of the covers? A final few nights lolling about on the front porch before dinner?
Just yesterday I saw two geese honk south – early birds – and the green acorns I kick down the road have begun to brown. Frantic squirrels dash across the road, mouths full. Monarch butterflies are migrating, and I wish them well as our paths cross for a moment, stuck as I am in traffic and surprised by their sudden appearance. The geraniums cling desperately to their pink even as the mums bloom on the front stoop.
Maybe we’re all on pause, dear September, not yet ready for what’s next but lingering awhile longer with what was. The thing is, wishing never once made time stand still, and so we move onward into earlier darkness and later light come morning, not without our hardships but hearts hoping, nonetheless.
So September, I’ll tilt my face to the last of the sun’s warmth and lick ‘round my mouth as the juice of apples and peaches and tomatoes drips down my chin. I’ll front porch our pumpkins and shuck all the corn I can get my hands around. Each day I wonder if today’s the last day I tug on my shorts, all the while looking forward to flannel. One day ice cream and the next, apple cider donuts. You’re neither, nor, and both. My favorite month of all.
I greet the day with a good morning salutation to my life.
It’s a beautiful day outside my window, but my attention, my gaze is inward. A moving moment with myself, within myself, for myself.
I stretch. Slowly. Almost timidly at first. Loosen and limber my body, open my circulation, lift my face to the heavens.
Feet side-by-side and steady. I focus. Firm my base. Tether the possibilities in my day to the intention of this solid rooting. In this moment, I re-engage with the substance of me, the soul of me. I am tall. Undaunted. Strong.
I ballerina-arch my arms overhead. Both at once and then one at a time, an orchestration in a symphony of movement. Lean to one side, switch arms, and lean again opposite. Tilt my head to and fro. Nod yes. Swivel no.
Clasp my hands overhead and gaze upward. Step wide.
A living, breathing, sign of peace.
Arms down. Palms up. I seek balance. Raise one leg behind me. Lower. Raise the next. Wobble. Steady. Wobble. Breathe in, out. In, out. Accept the wobble. Accept myself. Understand my limitations and work within them. Sometimes noticing I’m holding my breath. Releasing it, I try again. And again. As many times as necessary.
Kneel. Cat. Cow. Cat. Cow. Arch. Collapse. Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. Deepen. The. Stretch. Just. A. Little. Bit. More.
One part yoga, one part simple stretching, one part whatever feels good.
Now that I have more time, I see so many good choices for how to use it. Should I do this? That? The other? Even – nothing at all – is a choice. I can fritter time away with the best of them, and after an initial period of dilly-dallying and lollygagging, I’m living more energetically. I’ve never, ever had so many minutes all to myself, and it’s been a bit of an adjustment. A luxury, to be sure.
Questions I’ve been asking myself: How do I want to feel throughout my day? And especially, at the end of it? What choices will happy me? Fill me with pride? Hope? Wonder? Strength? Purpose? Contentment? Creativity?
It’s now my someday when, so I’ve shifted focus from achievement to enjoyment. I’m delightfully – and perhaps a little selfishly, for now – focused on what I most need or want. And I’m as much guided by what I don’t want as by what I do. I will no longer sacrifice peace of mind for productivity. I’m after whatever choices make me stronger in mind, body, spirit, or relationship.
Once time-crunched, chores have become relaxing pleasures. There’s so much joy to be found in the simplest of tasks: the sweep my hand makes erasing dust from a tabletop, the tuck of a clean sheet, the chop of a fresh vegetable from our garden. Routines are emerging, but slowly, and with a nod to the weather forecast.
The laundry keeps coming, and the bills, and the dishes. But truly, I tell you, what doesn’t get done today will tomorrow – or it won’t, and surprisingly, that’s okay. I work when I’m scheduled, rest when I’m tired, daydream often, walk most mornings, and sometimes simply sit still and listen to all the sounds of summer.