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Dancing sheets

Between their two years of theology studies, l.srs. Monika-Anna (from Slovakia) and Justyna-Sara (from Poland) worked for two and a half months in a laundry in Germany. Their accounts alternate here, like echoes, as they recount their unusual “vacation”:

My first reaction to the Munich little sisters’ offer was to say no. I couldn’t imagine working in Germany without knowing any German. Then, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do. And suddenly, the negative aspects were transformed into challenges. I understood that it was a chance to gain inside understanding of what life is like for people working in a foreign country. It was also a chance to get back into the kind of monotonous work that usually makes up “our” kind of job. I understood that the Lord was sending me here. I trusted, and said yes. And six weeks later, I see how the Lord has been with me all along.

From the start, the preconceived ideas I came with were put to flight. My previous jobs had always been in chaotic workplaces, with too few workers and too much work. I had been telling myself that at last I’d be working in a place that was “well organized”—after all, it was Germany! And that maybe I’d finally be able to brush up on my German. To my astonishment, I found myself back in the very kind of place I’d always worked in before…and among strangers, including strangers from my own country, Poland! My German? No chance of getting it back. For me it became an opportunity to accept reality, the way things actually are. And to speak however I could rather than how I wanted to. I communicate not just with words, but with my whole being.

It was a good opportunity to get to know myself better. I was surprised to realize how much I needed to communicate with other people. My desire was so great that I used all the languages I had in my head, even if I’d never travelled very far away. But I at least learned my co-workers’ names, I knew how each one liked to be addressed, and by little gestures, a simple greeting or a smile, as well as by the time we spent in each other’s company, relationships were born, tenuous but beautiful.

Working at first on the cleaner side of the laundry, I loved looking at the colored sheets suspended from tracks above our heads; they seemed to be dancing on their way into the machine. I realized once again that such physical, monotonous work leaves me space for prayer. It was a magnificent moment, where I could be with God in the midst of mountains of sheets and towels, among people from all over the world.
Things got more complicated when I was sent to the dirty side, to count the containers filled with dinner napkins brought in from restaurants. The need to count took away the free inner prayer space…but I could encounter the Lord in my co-workers, in the brief moments when we met and conversation was possible. I saw Him present in their beauty, in their goodness. Yes, each of us is created in God’s image and likeness…I still remember the attentiveness of one Muslim co-worker who took it on himself to bring me gloves and a towel so I could work more comfortably, even though he himself had more than enough work to deal with. I leave the laundry with not only an image of dancing sheets in my mind, but above all with the faces of my co-workers in my heart. Because a laundry is not a matter of machines and linens, but of the persons who create this workspace and make it unique.

L.srs. Justyna-Sara and Monika-Anna