Life Lessons at the Laundromat


A den of potential disaster

I hate going to the laundromat because it is a den of potential disasters and, apparently, a den of potential moments of self-indulgence.

I just want to get a good washer that doesn’t overflow and have enough quarters for the extra rinse cycle and not find anything super creepy when I open the door to the lint trip and get a whole table to myself to fold my clothes — you know?!

And most of the time, I’m caught up in feeling sorry for myself because using a laundromat makes me feel like I haven’t “arrived” in adulthood yet — because if I had, I clearly wouldn’t be here, spending all my spare time and change on laundry. And why can’t this place get wi-fi already?

Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up solidly middle class and get to have a washer/dryer in my building, but for today, I’m just waiting for my towels to dry while staring at the ugly scar on my shin that I got last month when I fell whilst wheeling a one of those (very full) rolling laundry carts they have here.

Let me tell you, those suckers are not built for sidewalks.

According to (whose) plan?

This morning, everything was going according to plan. I’d gotten the good washer, had the perfect amount of quarters, and hadn’t tripped once.

But just as I was loading my stuff into said washer, the woman a few machines down leans over her open door and asks innocently, “Where did you get your sandals?”

Oh no.

Small talk with strangers — one of my most dreaded potential laundromat disasters.

But, I happen to be particularly fond of my Chacos, so I answered her.

I kid you not, she talked to me through the 5 minutes it took to check my pockets and load my clothes, the entire 32 minute wash cycle, and about 10 minutes after it finished. I think I said about 2.5 sentences the entire time.

For the first few minutes, my brain was about 97% occupied with thinking about how I could maneuver out of this conversation in a socially acceptable way. Then I realized that this woman clearly didn’t know anything about socially acceptable maneuvers anyway, so it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

So then, I started listening to her.

Like, listening to her.

The woman was profound in a Wise-Woman-of-the-World kind of way and crazy in a completely-off-her-rocker kind of way.

Choosing the foolish things

She was an Orthodox Jew, but she’d also studied pretty much every other religion in addition to spending some time at Christian seminary. [She’d also been a kindergarten teacher, an international tour guide, and a commercial interior designer, if that makes a difference.]

And she told me her whole spiritual story, right there in the laundromat, while machines whirred and swished around us.

She told me about when the neighborhood boys she grew up with tried to convince her that heaven was paved with gold. And the time when her soul expanded to hold the whole universe the first time she lit a Menorah. And the time when she took a class on reincarnation and learned how to visit her past lives. [In one of them, she was an Egyptian slavewoman. In another, she knew Jesus. She says he had a big nose and a great sense of humor.]

The more stories she told me, the more I realized how lucky I was to be witnessing her brilliance. And, just when I’d become totally convinced she’d forgotten I was there, she’d look right at me and her gray eyes would glitter with some kind of mysterious sagacity.

Didn’t Paul write that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise? And I’d almost missed it because I was so sure I didn’t need anyone or anything to get in the way of my efficient productivity.

Is there anything more precious than someone’s spiritual story? Is there anything more wise than the words of someone who has spent their life pursuing God?

A lot more to tell

When I finally pulled myself away, I gave her my genuine gratitude for the thoughts she’d shared. She laughed, shot me the sagacity look again, and thanked me for listening.

“I’m sure you have a lot more to tell me, too” she said.

She’s right. We all have precious stories to tell, and hopefully, we can foster hearts (and ears) that are open to listening — really listening — to our own stories and to the stories of others.

Even when the telling of those stories comes at the most surprising, inconvenient, socially awkward of moments.

Shared with loving community @ Imperfect Prose



Filed under Musings

10 responses to “Life Lessons at the Laundromat

  1. nice…i would love to meet her…i love hearing peoples stories…it fills me up…and listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another…

  2. I’ve always prided myself in being a good listener (it’s kind of what I do for a living as a counselor) but I don’t think I would have gleaned nearly the beauty you were able to glean from this experience, Bristol. I’m so glad you shared your true feelings as well as your wise discernment from this woman’s story. 🙂

    • Thanks, Beth! I think my listening skills could use some work (I guess I need more everyday lessons like the one I described here). Someone once gave me the advice of balancing my words with silence.. I’m still pretty far from that goal! Thanks for coming over and reading!

  3. This is just a gem of a piece. Really beautiful and you touched on something so universal. I don’t know if Jesus has a big nose, seems plausible, but I definitely know about his sense of humor. 🙂 Thanks for your words here.

  4. oh, bristol, this is truly a gem like cara said. i mean, YOU were such a story-teller here, you know? it’s not just a gift to listen, it’s a gift to tell, and i’m so glad you did. 🙂 also, thanks for your lovely, lovely comments over at my place today. ❤

  5. lovely how as you gave this woman the gift of listening to her story, you discovered she also gave you a gift, then you passed the gift onto us with this post…Thank you, Bristol.

    Visiting from Em’s

  6. I’m so grateful that I stopped by (and sorry for commenting from my fb account; my wordpress attempt would simply land in your spam folder for some reason).
    Your words sang sweetness into my itchy spirit
    and calmed me deep.
    much glad thanks,

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