Hanging out Laundry with My Sister in Fallujah

Monday morning I woke to news of the siege, speculation as to who was still in the city. At least the poor were. Bombing was imminent if not already begun. Some of our soldiers had already died.

Fallujah went with me to Pendle Hill worship. But when we shared prayer requests at close of meeting I said nothing.

Then laundry. The early November morning was so warm I hung out sheets and towels and T-shirts amid still gold and crimson trees. And I thought, "How can I enjoy this glory when they are fighting in Fallujah?" Then, "But how can I not exult in this beauty when there is such suffering in Fallujah?"

Tuesday the news reported that heavy metal music was being blared in Fallujah, loud enough to drown out any calls to arms. It seemed the ultimate attack on civility; and of course it would also drown out, five times a day, the call to prayer. After our worship someone requested we "hold in the Light" everyone in Fallujah.

That afternoon I tried to write down my hanging out the laundry and heavy metal blues. The poem began as a grouchy, whiney try, full of election dejection. It included the thought that no one in Fallujah was hanging out laundry. I deleted most of it and took a nap. I was just plain depressed.

When I complained to Chris as we took our evening walk, it was about what a spoiled brat I am. He said not to be so hard on myself, that I was allowed to be sad about Fallujah. He recommended that I stop listening to the news. That made me more grouchy. I always listen to the news. I want to know what’s going on. What’s more, I don’t like being told what I should do.

But the next day I did try a "news fast." And when I returned to try again on my Fallujah poem it occurred to me that I did not know, could not be absolutely certain, that no one was still hanging out her laundry in that city. The question entered the poem, addressed to a woman lifting whatever is clean into the sun’s light.

Then, somehow, before the next day’s meeting for worship, I knew the woman was real. She was a sister, carrying on somehow the age-old ceremony of determined cleanliness. Maybe there was not a clothesline. Perhaps the garments were not even scrubbed, just aired on a courtyard fence or shrubbery. But there might be a line. She might even use the same kind of cheap, imported clothespins I got at the dollar store.

Hope was a theme at that day’s worship. And my new sister in Fallujah visited me and gave me hope. My spirits lifted. Later I wondered, "Is she helpful because she is singular, so that I do not have to confront the whole bloody city?" Perhaps it’s more that she is part of a creative process, both as I think of her and as she defiantly continues to spread her clothes in the sun. I admire her as she embraces the ordinary in a climate of fear and horror. To me her actions express faith, the opposite of fear.

These days I am listening to the news again sometimes. I know about the numbers of dead in that city with its beautiful-sounding name, and in other places in our troubled world. It makes me sad, but I am a little less locked into my sadness. And I continue to visit the woman who is still hanging up her wash in Fallujah, to call on her. I wonder sometimes about her family, her education, what she prays for. I think how her black veil will dry first, how she feels its dark warmth as she gathers it up again. I am not sure that I want to know my new sister’s age or class, or whether she is a beauty or very plain. But somehow I am absolutely certain of one thing. She will not—she cannot—die. Dying is just not among her options. She will carry on. And for the time being, she and I will continue to hang out our laundry together.