Wednesday, August 18, 2010

when in doubt, do dishes

I have had a pretty wide range of jobs outside the home over the years. Being trained as a musician will often lead to that.  Among other things, I have been; an exercise instructor, a cake decorator, a telemarketer, a sales office receptionist, a medical office receptionist and  a temp in a law office (language-wise this was like being in a foreign country).

About eight years ago,  I began working in direct care of the disabled. I was a "teacher" in a day program for severely disabled adults. The disabilities were physical and mental, and each person in my class had multiple disorders. More than half were in wheelchairs, and many could not feed themselves. Our days, as staff, were split between caring for their personal needs, and doing activities. My classroom stressed art and music.  I would get out the little rhythm instruments and play my guitar and we (mostly me) would sing songs. We also would do hand over hand art projects. 

This job required a good amount of training. At the beginning, I was overloaded with gobs of information, and as an apprentice, had to rely on almost minute by minute instruction. Often I wouldn't know what to do with myself, and not wanting to appear useless, I would go over to the sink and wash dishes left  from the snacks and lunch. Later, when I had the opportunity to train the newcomers, they often would wash dishes while the rest of us did the more skilled jobs. This always brought to mind Brother Lawrence-

He described his days in the kitchen washing dishes and seeking to discover “The Presence” even in the pots and pans. He writes:
The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
                                  (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, page 22)

There is something inherently grounding, peaceful and humble about the washing of the dishes. Often, when I have roughly forty seven tasks waiting to be done in the house, I begin with the dishes. It helps me get my head together. Maybe it is the soul's reminiscence of the waters of baptism. The little baptism of the hands sets the stage for the renewal of my day. The tasks that come after have a new light shed upon them, and I am less likely to forget my Lord.

When I am in any moment of decision, if I say to myself, "when in doubt, wash dishes", I can start at the basic, foundational place of humility. 

A pretty good place to start.  I think Julie Andrews once said that.

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