Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I wrote this a few years back to share during a Rosh Hashanah service with a “Prayers of the Heart” theme.

This morning was long and filled with tears, and my Lather, Rinse, Repeat mantra came in handy yet again. We’ve switched to tree-free-paper wrapped bar shampoo, but I’m carrying those plastic bottle words of wisdom forward.

Wishing everyone a Shana Tova Umetukah, a good and sweet year. May we all be inscribed for many more rounds of lather, rinse, repeat.


I’d love to think that the prayer of my heart would come wrapped it words of great beauty and poetry, but mine revealed itself to be much less flashy.

One regular old day over a year ago, while driving along Madison Avenue past the library, heading from one daily errand to the next, three words leapt from my heart, then repeated themselves until I spoke them aloud:

Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

This has been my prayer ever since, these words my heart gleaned from a shampoo bottle. This prayer of mine is descriptive – It sums up my life as mother of two young children fairly well – And it’s hopeful. Yes, there is the lather, but there’s also the rinsing, and then there’s the promise of the repeat, of the second bite at the apple, the chance to change the next cycle.

We have plenty of lather – Rushing to appointments, always 10 minutes late; meltdowns in the bulk department of T & C; frustration and anger on all sides; tears of sorrow; screams of panic and fear; restless, unsettled nights; crazed laughter and running dances that almost always end in injury.

We have plenty of rinsing – Clear water showers and baths, and dips in the salty sound, and the sort of rinsing that comes in moments of shared focus – On the beauty of a bug, on the colors of the setting sun caught in the rain clouds above our yard. Love rinses us, and joy, and our smiles through the lights of our Shabbat candles. I even get moments of rock-solid conviction that all is right, that all will be right with the world. And then, just when I start to melt into peace, or just before I’ve even caught my breath, it’s time to lather up again.

It can be a quick cycle, and sometimes it feels like it’s going to spin out of balance, but there’s hope in my prayer. Lather follows rinse follows lather as day follows night follows day. There’s a chance with each cycle to try something new, to tweak only one tiny bit, or to shake things up at the root, knowing that the next chance to try the same thing again will come soon if this change doesn’t go so well. And when I don’t have the energy for any changing, at least I know that soon, very soon, there will be a rinse to renew me, or a lather to wake me up.

I remind myself every day that this, too, shall pass – Both the moments of exhaustion and frustration, and the moments of clear joy and peace. This past year has brought so much lather, I have learned that it is possible to live with the soapy taste in my mouth and the sting in my eyes, to go for longer than I thought possible between rinses, or to get by with just a bit of rinse, just enough to clear my vision, but not enough to wash my hands clean. And this has been OK. In truth, it has been a blessing, and it makes my heart sing out its shampoo bottle prayer. Sometimes my prayer has all the supplication of a “please” in it, beseeching for the next rinse; sometimes it has all the wealth of a “thank You”, in gratitude for the cycle itself, for the repeat, repeat, repeat.

These Days of Awe bring the best rinse of the year. The rinse of the shofar, of our voices raised together and held in silence, the rinse of clarity that comes with fasting; all of this resets the whole pattern, leaves me praying for another year of lather, rinse, repeat, for myself and for all of us.

2 comments on “Lather, Rinse, Repeat

  1. I learned on thing I remember from a mandatory Home Economics in Jr. High, 1966. The three elements of laundry. I remembered it because it was fed to me in a form that said, this will be on the test. 1.) Water, 2.) Detergent, 3.) Agitation. It was also so silly, yet encouraging because any activity could enter the academic processor and become a memorable set in series. The elements of laundry would come to mind and make me laugh when I was trying to memorize DNA code, Astronomy or Physics minutia in college. My home made key to these concepts is dissolve, loosen the grip, and then get after it. This has a certain resonance with your beautiful meditation. And who knew that it would be a thought to live by in so many “ages of hu-man.” Some people run into their melt down time of life beyond their midlife crisis. Now I am going to add rinse, repeat.

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