On the Necessity of Cycles


Today, for the third day in a row, Abbey and I did our laundry.

Doing laundry in our house is a major production, largely because the washing machine is located in the utility closet which also functions as the galaxy’s storehouse (neatly organized, I hasten to add, with everything sorted into little matching plastic tubs). Because the machine’s hose isn’t connected to the house’s plumbing system, draining the machine of water necessarily floods the closet floor—hence the need to evacuate all the room’s contents (pails, mops, broom, vacuum cleaner, luggage, etc.). And since the rest of the house is just about as big as our washing machine, the dining and living rooms (post-evacuation) look like the aftermath of a mini-tornado.

At any rate, while surveying the dispossessed inhabitants of the utility closet, while listening to the muffled thuds of the dryer, it occurred to me that people spend vast amounts of energy on these interminable cyclical errands: these daily, weekly, monthly, yearly chores that range from the pedestrian (the weekly laundry cycle) to the profound (the yearly liturgical cycle). And then it occurred to me that I don’t particularly enjoy these tasks, because I have a stubborn preference for the linear over the cyclical, that I like putting my energy into singular things whose results accumulate, rather than repetitive things whose only results are the maintenance of a rather unspectacular status quo. Doing the laundry might be essential, but it doesn’t make history.

And this, I think, is one of the many tensions involved in being human. We need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to do the cooking, we need to do the washing—we need to do all these things that leave no traces in order for us to live. But we also need to create, we need to leave monuments, we need to leave testaments, we need to leave legacies—we need to leave something that defies the natural death of all things. In other words, one of the tensions involved in being human is that we live in two different temporal dimensions: one the time of cycles, the time that belongs to the body; and the other the time of lines, the time that belongs to the mind.

Of course, there’s also the time that marries both (a time when paradoxes can be transcended, and no, I’m not talking about death)—and that time hasn’t come for me yet.

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