For one partisan reason or another, it’s hard to find anyone right now who is not easily and often irritated. The raging times demand it.
This brings me to the dry cleaner. The dry cleaner opens for drop-off and pick-up six days a week, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The same couple has run it for decades; they seem to work all 66 hours, through a maze of moving hangers and mechanical escalators that carry sweaters and delicates up to cleaning heaven. Somehow, whether it is 7:01 a.m. or 5:59 p.m., humid or icy outside, they sustain a cheerful serenity with each other. A customer enters rushed or ill-spirited (many of us are both), dragging a heavy soiled coat behind, yet leaves a few minutes later feeling lightened of more than fiberfill. When one or the other proprietor wishes me a pleasant day, I believe it. I believe it, because they are already having it.
Something in their calm air makes me want to pull up a chair and linger. It’s not the décor: a few orchids scattered around, watered perhaps with the organic solvent advertised on a poster. It’s not the bowl of lollypops or Munchkins on Saturday mornings for those who pop in with kneepads and parents before soccer practice. These are material trappings. They can’t fool anyone out of irritability and into serenity, especially right now.
Next to the cash register, there is a rack of religious pamphlets. It’s natural to glance at the pamphlet on top while waiting in line: usually a set of gentle Biblical suggestions for life’s various troubles. One recent morning, I found this:
Open Make Schedule.
It was the last verb that struck deepest: an imperative so certain of itself that it left no room for debate — ridiculously, profoundly simple. Irritability is effortless: the natural, default state of now. Happiness is not. You have to plan for it, with an openly made schedule. You must open make it. At the dry cleaner, with its ever-present, serenely compatible couple, this seems so little to ask, for so much to receive.Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.