Cut doors and windows for a room

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the center hole that makes it useful. Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room; it is the holes that make it useful. Therefore profit comes from what it is there; usefulness from what is not there. – Lao-Tse

She asks can you possibly fold her laundry while she’s gone, she won’t be back for a couple of days and there are at least twenty loads that need to be done before she leaves for college.

Yes, you say.

But will you do a good job? she says. Will you take them out of the dryer and fold them right away?

You promise that you will.

Because I’m very fussy about my laundry, she says.

“Usefulness comes from what is not there.”

You stand at the laundry folding table, installed at a you-size height, meaning that you don’t have to hunch over to sort and fold. You think about this usefulness quote. It makes sense when you think about vessels, and windows, and spokes on a wheel.

It must apply here, too, but how?

Flick. On goes NPR on the giant black boombox that no longer plays cd’s or tapes. It’s a radio-only giant black boombox. A man with a deep, mellifluous voice is on, murmuring on about a made-up place that may have been patterned after a once-real town in this big state in which you live, but which no longer has any resemblance to the original.

That way of life is long gone. Flick. Off you go, man with the mellifluous voice, into a pretend church basement of which you seem to be fond.

You leave the laundry room and its machines, obediently doing that which they were designed to do.

“Usefulness comes from what is not there.”

For the next few hours you zip up and downstairs to switch the loads from washer to dryer to folding table. You fold immediately, just as you promised her you would. There’s a pile of jeans and sweatpants and shorts, a pile of t-shirts and shirts, a pile of sweatshirts, a pile of underwear and socks. There’s a pile of sheets and blankets.

In her absence, you hold up each shirt and give it a shake before folding. You smooth out the jeans before folding them. The dresses you hang on hangers. Wow, this girl has a lot of scarves. She must have inherited that from you. Here is the lavender one you have been missing lo these many months. You smooth it, fold it, debate: do you put it in her pile or do you whisk it away to your own closet? Who does it really belong to now, you or her?

There’s some kind of lesson to be learned here, in the folding of all this laundry just days before their inhabitant departs. A thousand miles away she will unpack these piles into a bureau and closet you haven’t seen.

A sundress, wisp of yellow cotton against a blue wall, sways on a hanger. Piles and piles of neatly folded clothes are stacked on the folding table.  What is not here is the girl whose body gives these clothes form and shape. Lao-tse is never wrong, so surely her absence to you, or yours to her, must somehow be useful. You will think on this for a while.


  1. Karen · August 21, 2011

    Wow. It is in one way hard to think this far ahead to when my children head to college, and in another way I know it will be here sooner than I can imagine. This growing up thing is good, but tough. I will think on this for quite a while, myself.


  2. Zellar · August 22, 2011

    This is beautiful. This is perfect.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s