Recently, I volunteered to help at a nearby retreat center. They gave me laundry detail. This was better than cleaning toilets--but not much. I don’t mind washing someone else’s soiled linens - I am just terrified of folding. After all, everyone knows there is a right way to fold a towel, and all others are wrong.
When I walked into the basement laundry at the retreat center, a flock of frantic, grey moths greeted me in confused flutter. This seemed a bad omen. Had no one volunteered down here for the many dark weeks during which these moths multiplied? I flicked on bright overhead lights and saw, to my horror, fragrant mounds of snow white towels, wash cloths and bath mats, all clean, sorted and ready … to be folded.
My sister once said to me, “Don’t you hate it when someone folds your towels wrong?” I knew exactly what she meant. My mother enforced strict folding standards upon us growing girls.
"No, that’s not quite right,” mother would point out as she observed and supervised. “It goes end to end, first; then in thirds!” she enthusiastically coached. Similarly, we drilled to perfect our hospital bed corners and studied the right way to match, smooth and double a pair of socks. A sloppy bed corner caused Mother to intensify her efforts. Stuffing socks together was strictly forbidden.
So effective was Mother’s education in the right ways of things, that I recall reporting home to her after a sleep-over, “Yes, Mom, it was fun but the Anderson’s fold their towels wrong and, well, I can’t really mention what they do to their socks.”
Women often excel at precise folding and ordering – happening upon the right way and patiently striving to share it with others. One dear friend recently told me, “I had to get rid of my room-mate, Marjorie. He simply could not sort the Tupperware properly in the kitchen cabinets. They were in complete disarray no matter how many times I reviewed the right alignment of containers and tops with him. He was making me crazy.”
Personally, my order fascinations attach to toilet paper. There is a right way – and a wrong way – to install a roll of toilet paper. Sadly, my own family more often does it wrong and duty calls me to occasionally inventory and adjust all toilet paper dispensers in our house. Everyone should know that this necessity best unfurls over the holder, for smooth, efficient delivery across the plate – like a fine, professional pitch. A bathroom is not a softball field – underhanded toilet paper delivers too slowly, without precision. I have noticed, sometimes, that my friends have not placed their toilet paper rolls correctly in their holders and, when I have time, I like to position them properly-- as a friendly gesture.
“Can’t I just refill all the toilet paper?” I thought to inquire at the retreat center. Assured my help was most needed where I most dreaded, I resigned myself. The chance I would get the fold right seemed slim.
Carefully, I slid one standard bath towel, one bath sheet, one hand towel, one wash cloth and one bath mat from their respective cabinets. I placed each one on the folding table and studiously unfolded and refolded, until I was confident I had their way memorized. As I suspected, the retreat center did not fold their standard bath towels the right way. Probably, the toilet paper rolls were incorrect, too.
I fearfully approached the fluffy piles. I am easily distracted during this type of work and I worried that I would revert to my mother’s default folding techniques if I did not get some divine intervention with the task at hand. Why couldn’t they just provide a diagram, for goodness sakes? I started praying Hail Mary’s.
The prayer soothed my concern. Slowly, uniform stacks of properly folded, pure white grew about me, like rows of snow creatures. I thought of the men and women who would be checking into the retreat center that afternoon, to spend the weekend in spiritual exercises and silent prayer. These towels, I reflected, would be a tiny piece of their experience here. Almost inadvertently, my prayer shifted away from me, for my success in folding, to them, for their success in retreat. My heart grew fervent, even bold in prayer, imploring God to touch and guide each one in the journey He willed for them across their days of silence, reconciliation and reflection.
Suddenly, the mountains had vanished. Stacks of matched sets stood strong and ready about me. Now, I had only to deliver each room with their towels for the weekend. As I positioned my work at the foot of one bed, I abruptly broke out laughing. No doubt some of these carefully folded towels were about to be refolded – the right way – by arriving guests.
“How did you do?” the retreat center supervisor asked as I said my good-byes.
Recalling Paul’s words to the Thessalonians – “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men” – I smiled and said, “I think I got it figured out – I hope I did it the right way.”
Postscript: Several weeks later, when I again found my volunteer service in the laundry, I was relieved to find glossy guides hung about the basement with charts and step-by-step instructions for folding each variety of towel the right way. At least one of my prayers had been answered!