Sunday, September 7, 2014

Too Much Death Can Make You Cranky

My apartment building has 10 units and shares one washer and one dryer. This is usually not a problem.  One recent Saturday afternoon, I started a couple batches of laundry.  After I got the first one into the dryer and the second into the washer, I then unintentionally fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up -- at least 15 minutes after the dryer stopped, I'm sure -- I went down to the laundry room and found that someone had removed the my load from the washer, piled it into my basket the top of the dryer, and started their own load in the washer.

That's just rude, I thought to myself. Is your life really so important that you can't wait 15 or 20 minutes to do a load of laundry on a weekend? So, after tromping upstairs to get something to put the dry laundry in, coming back down, sorting it, loading the wet laundry into the dryer, and carrying the dry load upstairs, I wrote a little Post-It note and took it back down to put on the dryer door: "DO NOT REMOVE LAUNDRY." I also set myself a timer to go off when the dryer was done (45 minutes) so I wouldn't be late. Proud of myself for being such a good boy (by not being more provocative with my note and being more mindful of the dryer cycle), I sat down to work at my computer.

Forty-three minutes later, there is a loud knock at my door; I answer and a small, older woman is standing in the hall, looking impatient. She says, "The dryer is done. I'm waiting for it."

Now, I'm just pissed off. I'm thinking, What's her problem? Still, gotta get the laundry out before it wrinkles, so, keeping my thoughts to myself, down I go; she waits upstairs, also silent, facing out the front door of the building. As I sort my stuff from the dryer, I'm grumbling to myself, thinking about how one could bring such a pestilentially rude person around to the point of view that we all have to live together here and how it's much easier for everyone if we just have a little patience, when she comes down into the laundry room and starts pulling her stuff out of the washer.

I decide to try a softer approach and ask, "What's your name?" She tells me. "I'm David. Nice to meet you," I find myself saying. "You, too," she says. "I'm tired," she continues. "I just came from the fifth funeral I've been to in two months and now I come home and have to do laundry."

Did I hear that right? "That's a lot of funerals," I say. "Yeah. First my mother, then my sister two weeks later, then my niece two weeks after that, then my nephew two weeks after that, then today..." I didn't catch the last person; I was too stunned. "I've been rearranging the furniture so much my kids are yelling at me to leave it alone." "Well, we all cope with loss in our own way," I commented. Listening to my heart break for this woman, I decided it was okay by me if she was a little impatient.

It's a basic human pitfall to assume that "bad" behavior on another's part is due to a personality flaw -- like concluding that she's "a pestilentially rude person" -- rather than considering that they may be struggling with some difficulty. It's a mistake I made that day and I'm glad for the reminder of it.