The Parable of the Dishes

Parable: An everyday story that draws attention to a deeper spiritual reality we might have overlooked

My dirty dishes taunted me from the sink. They were out of my sightline, but I knew they were there. Piled up, gunked over, and filled with murky water. It takes me all of fifteen minutes to load the dishwasher, then hand wash pots, pans, and sharp knives. And yet there is something about the whole affair that nags at my sense of “should.” I must plan the meal, shop for the meal, prepare the meal, and eat the meal. For some reason, cleaning up after the meal is where I drew the line. It is at the moment of dish care that I thought, This is too much

Early in their marriage, my parents struck a bargain. My mom most regularly cooked, my dad stepping in to grill as needed. But after dinner, they decided that my dad would do the dishes and my mom would bathe the kids.The ritual remains long past the time my brother and I no longer required assistance bathing. Mom cooks and uses, as my dad claims, “Every pot and dish in this house.” He loads the dishwasher with the precision born of his engineering degree, hand washes the All Clad pots and pans they’ve accumulated over the forty years of their marriage, then dries methodically before settling into the couch with a glass of Glenlivet 12 year. 

Sitting on my couch, I recalled snippets of moments, insignificant and yet formative, of our daily family dinners concluding, the rising from the table, the individuals scraping scraps into the trash can, the setting of plates and utensils in the sink, the walking away as my dad rolled up his sleeves. There was a sense of team in the ritual, a dispersal of responsibility that gave me pause as I contemplated my own dishes. I was reminded of the other minutiae that fall like pins onto my shoulders. No single thing is overwhelming, but added together? Surely there is someone else to do one of these things. 

I sat stubbornly on my couch, as if ignoring the dishes will make the reality of the task vanish. If there is a dish fairy, surely his or her magnanimity depends on my averted gaze. This strategy had not worked for the last four nights of putting off the task. But maybe this time… 

I sighed. My indignation against cleaning my dishes will not make my other responsibilities disappear. It will not pay my bills or craft my budget, organize my time or sort through the feelings I don’t want to feel. They’ll just sit there and fester. I got up, threw my hair in a bun, and yanked up my sleeves. As I let the water warm up, I pulled out my drying mat and drizzled soap onto the sponge. It’s just one dish and then another, I told myself. 

One dish and then another. As I scrubbed and stacked, I thought about my list of mundane and inconvenient tasks. I thought about my friend Sheila who works in finance, how she’s far better with numbers than I am. And my friend Kelsey who is also in therapy and also learning not to be afraid of her feelings. My friend Joe, the introvert with good boundaries. Ron and Leslie, who love to gather and connect people. One dish and then another and then it was over. 

I sank into my couch once more and reached for my phone. I texted my friend Kelsey to see if she wanted to grab lunch and catch up. My pruny hands sat folded in my lap as I focused back in on Sherlock. As I watched Benedict Cumberbatch stand on the rooftop of St. Barts, my shoulders released just a bit and my breath deepened. Tomorrow I would have to do it all over again. But for the moment, it was finished.

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