Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hiding in the Stairwell

It is wash day and I carry my two loads of dirty clothes down the stairs and into the laundry room. I happily spy both washers idle; I load the machines, feed them coins and go on my merry way. Half an hour later I come down to do the exchange and find, of the two dryers, one is running and the other one stopped but occupied, supposedly finished. Inside are two items of slightly damp clothes. Laundry ethics come bubbling up: what do I do?

Most apartment blocks in which I have lived tend to have unspoken rules about laundry etiquette. Queue jumping is a universal no but when to take another person’s load out of a machine is fraught with independent notions of right and wrong. I tend to be on the side of time: once your drying time is over, you best be there to care for it or, damp or not, it ends up on the table. That was, however, a theoretical stance. I’ve never had to put it to test … until today.

I looked at the facts and explored the possibilities. There were two items of slightly damp clothes sitting in a stopped dryer. I could wait for their owner to come down and put more coin in the machine or I could take the clothes out and lay them flat on a table in the suggestion of care. As the machine was stopped when I got down there (for who knows how long) and my dithering added more time, I figured I had already given the unseen owners at least five, maybe ten minutes to be time attentive. I weighed the options and made my decision. Out went their clothes, in went mine and off went I, merry once more.

An hour later I came down to retrieve my dry clothes. I was just about to open the laundry room door when, hearing voices inside—a man and a woman—I stopped. I knew with gut certainty that one of them was the bearer of damp clothes and, although I felt righteous in my decision, I wasn’t in the mood for confrontation. It was nighttime, I was tired and not a little defensive. I did the sensible thing and hid in the stairwell. I figured I could wait there until they left, how long could it take? Meanwhile I practiced poses in case someone came upon me: “oh, you surprised me, just walking down the stairs was I.”

It took awhile but finally the man’s voice left the room and headed for the elevator. I breathed a sigh of relief and decided to wait out the other. Minutes went by. As the cement stairs chilled my patience my gut urged me to accept the truth: the woman was not going to leave. In fact, she was probably waiting for the dryer thief to make his or her appearance. I looked into the proverbial mirror of my soul, agreed, and entered the laundry room.

It was Eunice. Now Eunice and I have a history of laundry day tactics. She once accused me, falsely I must say, of queue jumping and you could see her reviewing my sordid past as she confronted me again. I leaped to my defence before she could get in a word and convinced her of the rightness of my actions. She begrudgingly agreed so I magnanimously apologized for my part in her disrupted routine. Whew, friends again. Federal politics have nothing on what happens in the laundromat.

I bring this up because every day we make decisions which we either take responsibility for or, in avoidance, hide in the stairwell. Take last week for example. My father, who lives a good two to three hours away, had a short stay in hospital. I bussed out to his place and when he was released, stayed a day and a half to make sure he was okay. Standing at the bus stop, the morning I left, I was overcome by feelings of guilt: I should stay another day; I should care more; I should cancel my appointments in town; I should prioritize; I should, I should, I should.

Finally, my rather opinionated gut stepped in again and said, STOP! You’ve made a decision, now take responsibility for it. In other words, stop hiding in the stairwell of guilt and get on with life. And so I did. Once I put the “shoulds” in their proper place, I was able to review my decision to leave and come to peace with it. My father does not need my guilt or overwrought care. He does, however, deserve my respect and compassion. I can respect him more when I not only take care of my needs but take responsibility for the decisions I make however right or wrong they may be. Plus, in taking that responsibility, I can have more compassion to both him and myself.

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