by Sunni Brown Wilkinson
When the Spanish poet Antonio Machado fled Spain during that country’s civil war, he crossed the Pyrenees in an old car with his elderly mother on his lap. The two died only a few days apart. In one of the notebooks he left behind he writes about how, one day when he was young, he had a piece of sugar cane in his hand. He saw another young boy with a piece of sugar cane too, and sure that his was bigger, he asked his mother to confirm it, just to be sure. His mother told him no, it wasn’t, and then asked him, “Son, what have you done with your eyes?” It was the greatest reprimand she ever gave him, and he remembered it.
If you have any kind of spiritual life, you believe that much (even most) of what matters you can’t see or “prove.” It’s hidden. And according to Jesus, the kingdom of God is “like unto” the most basic things in life. Therefore, the kingdom of God is coming, but we are also living close to it right now. It’s likeness is all around us. We can see it if we look with the right eyes.
We are currently remodeling our basement. Correction: we are currently living upstairs while our empty basement is waiting for the contractor to help us remodel. We did our own demolition. Over the weeks our little 1950s basement became a warehouse of splintered wood, bent nails, and broken sheetrock. We wore masks and gloves and protective clothes and goggles. (I looked like a kid playing astronaut.) We tore down asbestos-filled ceiling tiles. We pried asbestos-filled linoleum tiles off the floor. We threw our sledgehammer against the walls. And we walked back upstairs at midnight or 1:00 a.m., sore and tired and covered from head to toe in sheetrock dust, white ghost-like footprints trailing behind us on the wood floors. The next day we’d load the debris in the truck and drive across the train tracks to the dump.
After several weeks of this, our basement consisted of beams, natural light, and empty space: beautiful in the promise of its possibilities. But this isn’t about that space or that possibility. Something else, something commonplace was, it turned out, at the center of everything. Something before now I had failed to truly see.
Only two things remain in the basement (under layers of that dust and piles of tools), the two things without which we’d cease to function. I mean our washer and dryer. We can live in a tight space. The 7 and 4 year old can share a bed, and they can share a room with the baby. We can stuff bins of Legos and puzzles under the crib. We can move load after load of storage to the garage. But we can’t live without something to wash and dry our clothes. (Okay, I could wash and dry our clothes, but this is 2015.)
My fondness for our old washer and dryer has grown beyond a normal relationship between a housewife and her trusty appliances. Sometimes I stand on the stairs and just look at them: two white buddhas churning away in the corner of a vast empty room, doing their good work out of sight and far away from the rest of the world. They never fail me. I open the washer and stuff it with dirty clothes, and when I return 30 minutes later, it presents me with clean clothes. When I open the dryer and stuff in wet clothes, all I have to do is turn the dial, listen for the buzzer from upstairs, and return, knowing full well that when I open that door a load of warm, scented clothes will fall into my hands.
Maybe it is a little like the end of the world, or the beginning of it, when all the elements are waiting on the sidelines and everything is quiet and a soft humming comes from somewhere almost out of sight. Something is still working, has been working from the beginning, something that just does what it’s supposed to do regardless of what’s going on with everyone and everything else.
Someday they will finally give out and we’ll have them hauled away and replaced by newer models. But for as long as they can last, my washer and dryer know what they are supposed to do and they do it.
I’m crudely offering my own parable here: the parable of the Washer and Dryer. The children of God are as savory as salt, as luminous as a candle in a dark house or a city on a hill, and maybe too as constant as an old washer and dryer, spinning away in an empty basement, turning whatever is in them into something miraculous.
Sunni Brown Wilkinson holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University. Her poetry has been published in Weber: The Contemporary West, Red Rock Review, Gulf Stream, Rock & Sling, and other journals and anthologies and has been nominated for two Pushcarts. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in Ogden, Utah with her husband and three young sons. She also blogs at www.allthelivelystones.blogspot.com