"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fresh Towels

"Before I never would have used a towel twice. I wouldn't even have considered it."

A conversation in a laundry room. A curved red laundry basket sitting on the washer between us, full of one man's week's worth of laundry. Jeans. Shirts. Underwear. Socks. Two thin grayish towels. All to be thrown in together. Washed together. Dried together.

The towels bother me. Remind me of childhood towels I vowed never to be subject to again. I'm thrown that this man of all people is using these towels.

"Do you need towels?"

My tone is friendly, neutral - I hope. I'm trying not to sound big-sisterly or pushy or critical.

"No, I have new ones in my car. But these are perfectly good. No sense in getting the new ones out while these still work."

I think about this man's life before. The one in which he could take daily fresh towels for granted. I think about his life now. The one in which he can't quite yet allow himself the luxury of thick, bright new towels - let alone fresh towels daily. 

The towels I've provided him for this visit are new, white and fluffy. They came from our mother's things. I didn't want them, but couldn't resist the snowy folds and inviting plushness. Glad to have new towels that would be used only for company. My habit as a host has been to provide one set of clean towels (bath, hand and washcloth) and the expectation that they would be used for the entire visit. 

It's what I do with my own towels. One clean set a week. Washed every Saturday along with my sheets. Hung out to dry on my clothesline when the weather allows. Replaced as soon as the selvage begins to fray. My version of responsible luxury. 

I feel rich stepping out of the shower into the purple folds of the biggest, lushest towels I can buy at Sears. I love burying my face in the sun-soaked loops of terry which in turn gently wick away the drops of water clinging there. These enfolding cotton wings help keep at bay the memories of thin gray towels that barely soaked enough moisture to dry an eight-year-old body. Limp pieces of mildew-smelling cloth that were shared among four kids and washed only when a trip to the laundromat allowed. 

I wonder if this man standing next to me needed daily fresh towels for the same reason I need new towels. I don't ask. I do hate that at this point in his life he lives with the same towels from the childhood that cost us both so much.

Somewhere in the middle of this conversation, I become aware of how small and controlling my generosity has been. The small luxury of daily fresh towels is a simple easy gift to give. The absence of judgement and expectation, a much larger and more difficult gift to release. 

I want to drape this man in clean, new layers of absorbent Egyptian cotton. Towels that will absorb the losses that have brought him to this point. Towels that will cushion him from a world that will not see the man I see, but will only see his labels. I want to be a person who can love him - who can love period - with a heart that can give freely. Whether it's giving towels or time or trust. 


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Start with the towels. The time and trust will come.


La La said...

Oh, god, I remember those towels!

Your writing continues to amaze me. Keep it coming.

Love you so much!

Wanna come and meet me for coffee?

kario said...

You have that heart, my dear. And it shows.


Anonymous said...

Funny how towels can be so meaningful, but I totally get it. Such great writing. Your beautiful soul and the love you have for him, will allow the trust to come.

Jerri said...

Yours is a heart that gives freely. We see it all the time, through your writing and teaching and loving.

Fascinating piece.

FrecklesandDeb said...

Towels. Who knew such daily necessities could hold so much power? Once again you've brought me to my own childhood and evoked memories that only a fluffy new towel can satisfy.

grammer said...

Deb, good use of the towels as a tool to discuss giving, loving, compassion. Towels make a good bridge between your respective experiences of childhood. Surely you both got sick to death of those thin and mildewy towels. Good job getting those on the page!

My only suggestion for this piece would be to tell us he's your brother right from the start. No need to hide that :)

Thank you for your generous heart.

M said...

Wow! From the very first words, my heart began to beat harder. The words are powerful and struck me to the core.

It is amazing the things we remember from our childhood...and the things we work so hard to change as adults. Thank you for your love...and your generosity. And for the perceptive spirit that God has given you. I always notice the towels when I'm there...and love the feel of them on my skin. Certainly not a childhood memory, but a dream of the way life should be everyday.


Your bro