I grew up in a house that did not have a dishwasher. It was my chore to wash dishes after dinner. Sometimes I resented not being able to run from the table and start school work or watch TV, but mostly, I felt it was just part of daily existence. I had a portable record player and must have listened to Joni Mitchell’s Blue a thousand times as I washed and dried dishes.
I left that house at seventeen, went to college two thousand miles from home, had a family, and lived in a variety of residences throughout the United States- apartments, condo, townhouse, and houses – all with dishwashers. My children never had to wash dishes after any meal as the microwave, iPod, computers, and dishwasher were just part of their daily existence.
A few years ago, after decades of living with modern household electronics, I moved to an old house, without gadgets. My renovation started with the necessities – a new septic system and heat pump – but when it came time to redo the kitchen, I hesitated. I loved the mellow wood floors that I found beneath the linoleum flooring and the green glass knobs on the old floor to ceiling cabinets. I bought a new stove and refrigerator but when it came time to redo plumbing, I chose to forego a dishwasher. The dishwasher would have taken up valuable real estate in the old farm kitchen, my children were grown, and I figured it wasn’t a big deal to wash a few dishes.
Now, I wash dishes every day. The window above the sink faces west toward the river overseeing birdhouses that attract a variety of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and even deer. Washing the dishes provides an opportunity to watch the antics of aggressive blue jays, or the comical woodpecker hanging upside down. If it is late in the day, I watch the sunset over the river and hills, creating a backdrop of beautiful colors. I witness the changing of the seasons, the position of the sun as it sets each day. At this time of year, I feel the warm, sudsy water caress my cold hands, the dish cloth gliding over the smoothness of plates, the rough landscape of food stuck on dishes. It is a sensual experience to feel the soap, the water, the sleek glimmer of clean glass, smell of the soap, the sound of dishes clanging and the floor creaking as my body weight shifts on the old floors. It is a dance of the senses, of body and mind in togetherness.
Every so often, as I did last evening, when darkness came early, I pull out my old iPod, attach some speakers, and listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, as she sings River:
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
It is indeed coming on Christmas – I have skates and a river that I could skate away on – but now I also have a sense of stillness, as a million stars illuminate the night sky, of calmness, peace. There is in this moment a connection with God, with the silence that allows us to touch souls, and an understanding that we can, in stillness and intention, find ourselves in very ordinary acts.