The Tuesday before school started, the washing machine quit. Just
like that, it went ominously silent —halfway through a big load.
Older than many of my colleagues and twice as old as my marriage,
I think the washer dates to the era of Ronald Reagan’s first term.
And I was not ready for that era to end. So I did what any man
would do: I closed the lid on the machine, shut the laundry closet door
tightly, and walked away.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday came and went and — oh
happiness! — my dear, beautiful wife did not discover the warming vat of cloudy
That Friday, she called me at work. I had a sudden premonition
that the other shoe was dropping. I was right. She matter-of-factly informed me
that we’d need to ask the neighbors if we could do laundry at their place.
With the threat of my neighbors handling my smelly socks, it was
time to act. Saturday morning, my friend who can fix anything coached me over
the phone through a few possible fixes on the water level switch, lid and belt.
I did as he ordered — and nothing.
After 30 minutes I hung up on my friend and kicked the machine. I
was beginning to resent its silence. And now my big toe hurt. My friend is
smart, patient and has fixed many things. I, on the other hand, favor a more
primal and direct form of communication with machines. When he told me to tap
lightly on a certain part with a screwdriver, nothing happened. So I found a
hammer. A hose promptly came off, releasing a gallon of fetid water directly
onto an electric coil before I could stop it.
The Reagan era was officially over. After scooping gallons of
foul water out of the machine, I dragged it to the top of the staircase. At
this point, perhaps I gave my children a lasting memory. As I manipulated the
200-pound machine down the stairs, it tipped sideways, releasing previously
hidden gallons of water onto my head that quickly pooled at the base of the
We get so busy.
Things break in our lives, and we (or at least some of us guys)
shut the lid and walk away. People around us get worn down. We have chances to
notice this, but for whatever reason, we don’t. We delay going to confession. And
then one day, we find ourselves standing in a putrid puddle at the bottom of
the staircase, wondering how it came to this.
Before we could even stop by to work on the laundry we’d dropped
off, our neighbors had washed, dried, sorted and folded three clean loads in
neat piles, one for each child (and mom and dad too). Not only that, but they
handed us some fresh homemade biscotti for the kids’ first day of school.
Things break in our lives. Our pride and laziness conspire to
leave us isolated with our wounds. To make the repair I will need to ask for
help. I will need to admit a shortcoming. We choose to live with the odors of
our own worsening and “private” weaknesses — trapped behind closed doors — rather
than ask for help.
Early that back-to-school week I bought a new washer and
installed it. This one belongs to a new era — of digital screens, sensors, and
In 1890, my great-grandmother emigrated from Sweden at the age of
12 with only her sister and took jobs for the next 30 years cleaning and doing
laundry in the homes of the wealthy. “I never had a washing machine,” Nanny
recalled late in life, reflecting on her own family and household. “I could
have had it, I’m sure, but I never dared to go into debt for things.”
Her well-worn Bible rests in our family prayer corner. When I
hold its leather cover, I can smell her hands, her strong hands which washed
and folded so many clothes through the decades.
In our world of screens, her Bible reminds me to slow down. To
look up. To admit wounds. To make repairs. And to always accept the grace that
beckons in my neighbor’s kindness and which flows so abundantly from the Giver
of all grace.
Johnson, a husband and father of five, is the bishop’s Delegate
for Evangelization and Media.