(Sermon) Walking to the Laundromat

This is a sermon I’ve delivered several times to various congregations – it’s a less literal, oral poem to help us reflect on our amazing, bewildering life in the modern age. The text in italics – sung in the oral version of the sermon – is from the traditional spiritual “Over My Head”.

“Walking to the Laundromat”
Rev. Bob Janis-Dillon
delivered at Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
March 13, 2011

There has never been an age like this
since the beginning of the world.

I am walking to the Laundromat
along streets that were carved into the
earth a 100 years ago,
walking these streets
ushered by buildings of brick and stone
that were built by hands like mine,
that were built by tools that contain in them the
same electricity that powers lightning
these buildings that were
envisioned by the minds of men,
these men that were given life and kept alive by the
minds and bodies of women.

I am walking to the Laundromat.
I carry with me a large plastic bag
filled with my dirty clothes,
made in
Chinese sweatshops,
machine sown by grandmothers and
by grandsons.
I will never meet them.
Somewhere in a valley in China,
surrounded by trees and buildings,
maybe they are sitting down now
for dinner.
Maybe they think of me,
the stranger in the West wearing their clothes,
the clothes they have made
with their hands and their machines,
maybe they imagine me.

I wear their clothes
on my back, and with machines I wash their clothes
and take away the week’s mistakes,
make my clothes new
again.

There has never been an age like this
Since the beginning of the world.

I am walking to the Laundromat.
Walking through the streets of my town,
breathing in the air
of my little city,
a city of thousands,
whose population
I increase by a number of one.

They say our atomic particles are interchangeable.
They say that statistically
I contain two particles of Jesus.
They say that statistically I contain two particles of Moses.
I say that I am carrying my clothes to the Laundromat,
And by the time I return home,
If all goes well
They will be clean.

Not since the beginning
There has never been an age like this
Not since the

I am walking to the Laundromat.
I carry with me thoughts of my childhood,
because the smell of the air today
reminds me of the ocean,
where my uncle lived,
my uncle
Who has been dead now
Ten years, maybe more,
My memory has lost track of them.

My uncle took me fishing in the English Channel.
The waves were choppy, and the wind, brisk.
I caught a single fish – I hit it against the
metal of the boat
in order to kill it.

“You’ll have to give it a good whack,”
my uncle said,
“kill it in one go.”
He took it off my hands
and finished that task for me.

At lunch that day,
my family and his,
cousins, parents and brothers and sisters,
each ate a small mouthful
of fish
along with the rest of our food.
The meal may have been
frozen pizza or artichoke hearts,
or something else entirely, I can’t remember.
But I still remember eating that fish.

My aunt was a schoolteacher for thirty years.
My uncle was an architect.
After my uncle died,
my aunt moved out of the house her husband built,
gradually she
moved out of the life they had put together.
She spent a lot of time then with her children
and grandchildren.

She has another man now, not my uncle, who I loved,
but another man, generous and kind.
The love keeps on going,
long after the people who carried that love,
can carry it no more.

There has never been an age
like this since

Over my head…

I am walking to the Laundromat and I look
up and notice that the sky is on fire.
I don’t know how long it has burned –
before I was born it was lit,
and when I die it will not yet be extinguished.

Behind the glare of the sun
stars strain to reach me,
the whole of the sky is nothing but
nothing and fire.

There has
an age
like this

since
the beginning

They say if you look at the sun for too long
you’ll go blind.
That’s what they say.
They also say you can’t see anything
in the dark.

I say I am going to the Laundromat,
Where my clothes will get cleaned.

Over my head, I see trouble….

A month before my uncle died
I was living in England.
I didn’t see him.
But I gave my Aunt and my Uncle a telephone call.
I was surprised when he picked up the phone.
I asked him how he was.
I knew how he was.
He said he was going to beat this thing,
but his voice told me the truth.

I remember my mother after my uncle died,
how she sat in front of the television set
with a remote control in her hand.

She never watched TV much,
but then she just sat there, not doing anything at all,
not even waiting, past waiting.

The world should have stopped then.
But it went on. It should have stopped.
But with every day, it went on.

Over my head, I see trouble

There has never been an age
like this age.

I am walking to the Laundromat,
my hands are carrying a bag filled with old clothes,
my mind is carrying a to-do list,
always new, and never original.
Afterward,,
there are dishes to be cleaned,
there is trash to be thrown out,
I don’t even know where it goes.
There’s a landfill somewhere awaiting my trash.

More and more to do.
My feet move forward, step after step,
moment follows moment,
and my head races ahead, days, months,
skips entire years.

Maybe the original sin is forgetting where we are.
Maybe we didn’t get kicked out of paradise,
maybe that’s the great lie,
Maybe paradise is here,
and we just don’t know how to see it.

Maybe now is paradise, and the future is nothing.
Tomorrow, or the day after, I’ll be dead.
Sooner or later.
Today is the day, today I am here,
today I’m dancing, step after glorious step.
Today I dance spiraling from moment to moment,
today I weave the sacred web
my ancestors bequeathed to me,
connecting to those who share my life,
to those near enough to touch
and those on the other
side of the world,
those living and dead and not yet born.

There has never,


Over my head,
I see angels in the air
over my head.

I am walking to the Laundromat.
The weight of the clothes in my bag is beginning
to hurt my shoulder.
The plastic is stretched thin.
The plastic in the plastic bag will last
for millions of years.
But the bag might not make it to the end
of this block.

I look around me.
Cars race along their way,
each containing a person, maybe more.
There are lights of red and green,
there are posters advertising condominiums,
there are trees and the discarded wrappers
of potato chips.

The world is what it is.
I feel the paved earth beneath my feet,
I feel the memories slipping into and out of their mental folders,
I feel my heart beating.
I am what I am.

Sometimes when I listen to beautiful music
I get tears in my eyes.
I can’t explain it.
But it occurs to me that I have never managed –
I have tried but I have not yet managed –
I have never managed to stop loving the world.
Mark it on my headstone, maybe, but I have
loved the world through thunderstorms
and clear weather, through fire and through ice,
I have loved the world even in the times
I have grown sick of other people, even in
the times I have hated myself.
I have walked mountains,
I have gone through the land of the dead and
I have come back,
and throughout it all
I have not once failed to love the world,
but I have gotten angry at the world
when I didn’t feel my affection was returned.

Over my head, I hear music in the air,
Over my head, I hear music…

Just for a moment, only for a second,
in an instant I look directly at the sun.
A bright white light continues
in a sky that stretches from pure
blue to pale.
I look directly at the sun,
I look through hurt and pain,
and it is indescribably
beautiful.

I make my way to the Laundromat,
I put my clothes in the washing machine,
and I watch it spin.

About bobjanisdillon

Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, husband, father, three-chord guitar wonder.
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