I Believe in the Power of Common Rituals

Caroline - Harwinton, Connecticut
Entered on February 10, 2009

I love hanging clothes on the line. It has taken me all summer to understand why. My husband’s mother has always said that she loves doing laundry, and until now I have not understood.

So why, then does this self-proclaimed strong and beautiful, independent modern professional mother who is living the “have-it-all” life love hanging clothes out on the line?

It started out as a “green” change in our life. I simply added it to the eco-centered activities. We have a share in the organic farm around the corner and cook whatever local products are in season; we use canvas rather than paper; we don’t buy processed food and instead make bread in our electric breadmaker and ice cream in our electric ice maker (very aware of our limitations there); and we recently purchased the latest suburban green appliance – a front load washer – into which we now put our home made earth-friendly laundry detergent. Hanging the clothes on the line followed naturally.

And yet, it has become more than simply a good-for-the-earth activity. I feel much more affection for the weight of moving a basket of wet clothes and squinting into the sun as I stretch for the line, than I do even for the taste of eating the raspberries from our garden. The rope is placed high out of the reach of our children, and I need to use a stick with a hook to pull it down so that I can grab it. I have to counter-intuitively push the bottom rope up to create slack and reach the top rope to place the S-hooks that hold the passing ropes together. I clip each individual piece of clothing and pull the rope to send it further down and make room for the next. Over and over I do the same sequence of motions.

I have plenty of household chores that I do over and over. Why is this one different?

I have to be aware of and connected to the weather. I have to read the clouds and judge the warmth of the sun. I like this connection to the earth – almost like my backpacking-the-coast-of-California days. But even this doesn’t seem to explain completely the importance of this ritual. I feel connected, peaceful, and content while I am hanging clothes.

At first I couldn’t put a name on the feelings that were causing me to ask my children for more and more dirty clothes. I have found that the connection feeling is the strongest emotion, but didn’t know to what I felt connected.

The universal connection of women has gained more meaning for me recently. We have great strength in our diversity and in our commonness. We may not all be mothers, but we have mothering hearts. We are all passionate about what we do, who we are, and for the people around us. We have a common history. When I hang laundry on the line I feel a connection with women all around the world have hung laundry. I feel connected to women in this ritual. The pull of the line was not a new activity for me. The collective memory of the ritual made it part of me. I heard the squeek of the pully when my mom hung my cloth diapers, when my grandmother hung her cotton sheets which she then dutifully ironed, and when my great-grandmother hung from rafters of her New York City apartment. Even if you have never hung laundry, even if you and I have opposing political views, different religious beliefs, and varying parenting styles, we are connecting in a way that we may not quite be able to name.