In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, not far from my home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is the unique, quirky, and fascinating Mercer Museum. Henry Mercer collected tools of everyday working life – things like well-sweeps, plows, churns, and clothespins. Like Mercer, I believe in the value of simple, everyday tasks.
I believe in things like hanging out the wash. Modern women are supposed to be above such drudgery, but among the mundane tasks in life, hanging out the wash becomes a spiritual rite in the warm days of spring, summer, and fall. To hang the wash means that the weather is beautiful. It means that I’m not in a hurry. It means that for a few minutes at least, I slow down and simplify my life. To hang the wash means that all is well in my little corner of the world. No one hangs the wash in the rain, or in war…
As I hang the wash on the line in my backyard, I feel a connection with strangers from far away and long ago. To hang one’s clothes in the sun, to feel their warmth and smell their sweet scent – this never changes; it’s the same everywhere. It’s the same in Iowa, Ireland, and India. It’s the same today as it was twenty-five years ago, or a hundred years, or a thousand… I find it marvelous that such an ordinary task can transcend the ages and cross the oceans.
Sweeping the floor, weeding the garden, and making the bed — other chores that are unchanging and universal in their simplicity — evoke similar feelings of connection and gratitude. Gratitude because these simple tasks presuppose a certain measure of peace and well-being in the daily scheme of things. They assume that most fundamental of human needs: a place to call home. Some affluent communities forbid backyard clotheslines and vegetable gardens. Some people pay others to do their mundane, daily chores. I believe that these communities and individuals are all the poorer for not seeing the value of these timeless and universal experiences.
There’s a rhythm to performing life’s simple, everyday tasks — a rhythm that’s as predictable as the rising sun, as constant as a ticking clock, as comfortable as a purring cat, and as precious as a beating heart. When any of these rhythms stop, it usually means that something isn’t right. The constant rhythm of life’s daily work is one way I feel order and calm in a world that is often frantic and out of control.
I look forward to the days of summer when life slows down, the breezes blow gently, and I take the time to hang the wash outside. I’m grateful for those days when I can make my bed and sweep the floor.
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