Why it might be a blessing to do dishes by hand


The air is downright chilly in the mornings and evening soccer practices yield to cool darkness. Autumn is upon us. I’m a big fan of weather, an embracer of the change of seasons. And of all the seasons, I love autumn best. This year, though, I find myself wishing it wouldn’t arrive so quickly. Time just seems to slip through my fingers these days. Autumn comes and with it, the close of the year will soon be upon us. Hurry, hurry. We race on. I’m not ready to let this year go.

Where can we find more time? Amidst the bustle of it all — the super-fast debit card self-checkout that eliminates the need to count out change and chat with the cashier about what I plan to bake with those chocolate chips and the can of pumpkin; the E-Z Pass that eliminates a smile and a “Have a nice day” with the man in the tollbooth; the automated checkout at the library that means we won’t chat stories with the children’s librarian — we are hustling through time. It feels so frantic. We feel so frantic.

Tell me, what do we gain in our hurry? I can well see what we lose. We lose our sense of community. We lose our connectedness to one another. We lose the ability to stop and savor and settle in and notice the details. And in our hurry, we find ourselves feeling cheated, as if we just pushed our way through but didn’t really live the life we’ve been given.

Last week, our dryer was broken. In a family of 11, when the dryer breaks, we all get pretty creative about places to hang clothes. Our homeowner’s association prohibits clotheslines, preferring the aesthetic of efficient dryers trapped inside stuffy laundry rooms to the messy beauty of linens blowing wild in the breeze. Go figure.

We hung clothes from portable soccer goals and relished the warm windiness of the day. For the few days of our inconvenience, I was not-so-secretly enjoying being “forced” to stand in the sunshine and shake out clean laundry. It was terribly inefficient, made the chore much more time-consuming, and would likely become wearisome over time. But in the moment, it was a golden opportunity to relish the moment, to linger long instead of tossing clothes inside the drum while looking ahead to the next thing to do.

The day we got the dryer fixed, the dishwasher decided it was no longer communicating with the water source. Admittedly I grumbled a bit before I resigned myself to filling my sink with warm, soapy bubbles. Surveying my “help,” I decided it was probably easier to wash dishes by myself than to coach my reluctant dishwashers through this new way of tackling the typical Tuesday night table set for eight. Or 10.

Here’s what you can’t do while washing dishes by hand: You can’t get distracted by your smartphone. You can’t wander out of the room when a child keeps adding to a longwinded, very detailed, not-even-remotely true story. You can’t quickly go check the laundry. Or your email. You have to stand there, hands in the warm suds, and be fully present in the moment. It doesn’t much feel like time is slipping through your fingers.

Where’s the slow in life? Can we seek it, find it, perhaps even create it? Can we deliberately pull into the slow lane sometimes? Can we embrace the wait time? Take a few extra moments to pay in cash and count out exact change, looking the cashier in the eye and sharing a warm word or two? Can we breathe more deeply, park a little further away and enjoy the walk? Can we plunge into the sink full of bubbles and invite someone we love to pull up a stool and chat while we rinse away the hurry with the dirt?

When we do, we catch moments that glisten like soapsuds in the early evening light across the sink. And time swishes warmth around us instead of swirling forcefully down the drain.