Wednesday night while I was teaching an English class, one of the prompts for comparative adjectives was a dialogue like this:
A: I think you’ll like my new dishwasher.
B: But I liked your old dishwasher. It was quiet.
A: That’s right. But my new dishwasher is quieter.
Since it’s an adult ESL class, none of my students are native English-speakers, but they understood this dialogue very well. One woman said, “I don’t have a dishwasher, but when I wash my dishes, I’m loud.”
Me too, I thought. I don’t exactly enjoy the sound of dishes and pots banging together in the sink, but I think I prefer it over the background-sloshing of a real dishwasher. We rarely have two days worth of backed up dishes because there’s no place to put them if they don’t get washed. And, our apartment is so small that leftover dishes with traces of food smell bad the next morning. Really bad. Nightly dishwashing, although it’s a chore, is required in our home.
(Another advantage is that I’ve become muy rapido at doing the dishes myself.)
All of this thinking about dishes sans dishwasher reminded me of one of my favorite passages from The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. Writing in a kind of contemplative tradition, she explains how our feelings about the simple repetitions of the “quotidian” hang on our sense of work as a kind of spiritual and emotional “play.”
When confronting a sink-full of dirty dishes — something I do regularly, as my husband is the cook in our house and I am the dishwasher — I admit that I generally lose sight of the fact that God is inviting me to play. But I recall that as a college student I sometimes worked as a teacher’s aide in a kindergarten and was interested to note that one of the most popular play areas for both boys and girls was a sink in a corner of the room. After painting, the children washed their brushes there, but at other times, for the sheer joy of it, the tickle of water on the skin, and God knows what else — a few children at a time would be allowed what the teacher termed “water play.”
She goes on to explain how “repetition,” according to Kierkegaard, “is reality, and it is the seriousness of life…repetition is the daily bread which satisfies with benediction.” Norris writes, “Repetition is both as ordinary and necessary as bread, and the very stuff of ecstasy.”
If I could view doing my dishes by hand as “the very stuff of ecstasy,” it wouldn’t be such a gruesome chore (I’m guessing Kierkegaard didn’t have many dishes to do), but I’m not there yet. I think, though, there’s something to be said for meeting a very present-minded need (like tackling a stack of crusty, gooey dishes) with that sense of play.
Regardless of what the “play” looks like, I would never even get a taste of it with a dishwasher in my kitchen. So, for now, I don’t want one — just in case it does turn out to be “the very stuff of ecstasy.”