Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...same picture, different story

Look out the upstairs front window and check for clouds. 
Repeat process at back window. 
If sunny, clip clothes to line. 
Turn on the kettle and put tea bag in cup.
Reach for the biscuit tin. 
Run to back door as rain arrives unannouced. 
Unclip clothes quickly. 
Hang them in front of windows. 
Hang them in the hall. 
Hang them in the kitchen. 
Drink tea, eat an extra biscuit because rain has stopped. 
Repeat next Monday.

Yes, I've posted this photo before. But in an entirely different context. Here's the rest of the story. When I returned to the states after my Irish sojourn, I journaled. The tea bag had dropped into the cup in Kinsale. Once at home, the rich brew steeped within. I shared my journal with a friend who then carried it to Father Kelly, a young Irish priest, oldest of eleven children. He graciously plodded through the tome and returned it with a kind note. I saw him a week later and he said, "I really liked that laundry piece." This flippant, humorous memory was hardly one of the "deeper" thoughts I had committed to paper. Then he continued. [Before I write more, let me insert that Father Kelly is profoundly deaf. Had to get special dispensation from His Holiness to become a parish priest. He is also an outstanding harpist. The winner of the History award at university in Ireland. The master of the five to seven minute homily. A quiet, devout man. Now you have the picture.] 

"Our clothes were never dry," he went on. "Mother would hang the wash and the rain would come." He paused to greet someone, then picked up where he'd left off. "We had clothes everywhere all the time." I guess so, what with thirteen people living in one house. But he wasn't through. I must've struck a nerve. "Sometimes," he said, "we'd get ready for school and our clothes would still be damp." His eyebrows knitted together as he nodded his head.  I thought of my first impressions of him. Always immaculate. Lint feared him. And I feared that some of mine might glom onto his fastidious self. His vestments were handmade by his mother. Beautiful handwork with Irish lace, some from her wedding gown. As he talked about his laundry memories, I saw the birthplace of his fastidiousness. He ended with, "You understand. Clothes everywhere..." He shook his head as he shook my hand.

Ironically when I re-read that journal, I was drawn to the simple pieces - authentic, unconscious impressions - much more than the labored writings. Funny how life seems to work best when I relax. I have come to appreciate that the great truths can be found at the kitchen sink or around the table. Celtic prayer celebrated "the sacred in the commonplace". The mother who lit the morning fire prayed, "I will kindle my fire this morning in the presence of the holy angels of heaven...without malice, without jealousy, without envy, but the Holy Son of God to shield me. God, kindle Thou in my heart within a flame of love to my neighbor, to my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all." The milkmaid lifted her own prayer: "Bless, O God, my little cow. Bless, O God, my desire. Bless thou my partnership and the handling of my hand."

While in Ireland, I encountered unexpected links to my past in the daily routines: recalled my own childhood dashes to the clothes line when thunder rumbled suddenly; remembered freezing wet sheets as they hit my face on blustery winter mornings. When an older gentleman spoke of the "fillin' station" or when the ladies at the historical society wanted to know "what part of Ireland are your people from?", I felt right at home. I had grown up in Dublin, Georgia, a small town in the southern half of the state, settled by the Irish. We talked the same way, only with different accents.

I know that a geographic cure is no help at all if I'm running away. But if I'm moving toward a new chapter, a change of place can be rich. James Thurber wrote, "All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why." Sometimes sitting still is the deadliest choice, an avoidance, trapped by fear.

The desire to explore is universal. Annie Dillard recounts this story: "In Highland New Guinea, now Popua New Guinea, a British district officer named James Taylor contacted a mountain village, above three thousand feet, whose tribe had never seen any trace of the outside world. It was the 1930's. He described the courage of one villager. One day, on the airstrip hacked from the mountains near his village, this man cut vines and lashed himself to the fuselage of Taylor's airplane shortly before it took off. He explained calmly to his loved ones that, no matter what happened to him, he had to see where it came from." I am related to this gentleman.

When I've been privileged to travel, I've glimpsed the common thread that weaves us all together. We are both ultimately alone and intimately linked with others. Now, through the ether, I am linked to many countries that I can only hope to visit. [Carole, if you are reading this in Yorkshire, I hope you know how you have enriched my life with your notes: two mothers from opposite sides of the pond linked in serendipitous ways.] 

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) wrote: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Wherever I go, clothes have to be washed. And dried. Meals cooked. Sheets changed. For me, a wash-up abroad was good for the soul. 


Jeannette said...

A lovely full circle is here in how you travel out and return... homing in on the essential... touching the sacred in all that is done with God in mind.

BrightSoul said...

what a great story. thank you for sharing it!

Celeste said...

I will glady eat ramen noodles for a year to grateful to discover wonderful people every where I go!

GretchenJoanna said...

The theme of laundry seems to me a deep well to draw from. Our clothes and and the tending of them are so fundamental and personal -- and the images of them hanging on clotheslines, or even stacked on shelves, are often a visual feast. Thank you for this yummy meal!

Celeste said...

Art is everywhere! And I think there is an art to every action.

Carole said...

Dear Celeste. I started off with a little chuckle to myself reading your 'washing line directions' So very familiar with my own experience hanging out the washing here in the Yorkshire Dales (tea and biscuits always at the ready!) Then I was humbled by a mention of my name towards the end of your piece. I am not well-travelled, life has been a journey of a different kind so far, but like you I am so thankful to have made contact on the web with someone who I might never have met any other way. Bless you my friend!

Celeste said...

Dear Carole, sending you Eastered light from California...such a perfect gift to find your message. I had never traveled outside of the south (mostly my home state) until forty. The first trips were for business, but I loved the experience. I consider myself not "heavily" traveled but "well" traveled: I have enjoyed each opportunity to the fullest. Would eat ramen noodles for a year to take a trip! Resources and responsibilities limit but friendship is blessedly portable!