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Thursday, September 06, 2018

Alone With The Dishes

[I wrote the first draft of this back in 2004 to describe the mental process I go through at this time of year.]

One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night, alone with the dishes.  To be clear, my wife does her fair share of the dishes.  But for the big jobs - particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc. - I’m the one left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.

So it is (for me) with the approach of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. 

For me, looking back at the year is like surveying the aftermath of a wild dinner party; one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate… the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored (and paid for), for months.

But every such a party comes at a cost.

Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room looking aghast at the damage.

What was I thinking?!

Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes. 

Empty bottles of Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay stand abandoned beside half-empty bottles of bourbon and scotch. 

The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers), seem evenly distributed between the diningroom table and the various kitchen counters.

Soiled linen napkins sit balled on (and under), chairs.  And glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists happen to have abandoned them.

On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem, well, surmountable; trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.

Anyone who has ever been left to clean up after a big party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be clean again, so why bother?!.

But then you pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim), and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered. 

And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet; just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Several circuits of the house bring more dirty wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join that first one there on the counter.

Then, after emptying the sinks of their precariously piled contents, I draw a basin of hot soapy water.

As the basin fills, I designate other places for dishes and for cups and for saucers - each to each - all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, while I work I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.

And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me).  Nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.

With the leftovers wrapped and put safely into the refrigerator, and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, mind you... but some semblance of order has begun to emerge from the chaos.

Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with hot soapy water and placed on the stove and sideboard to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their racks, and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves; each gestures creating a bit of space… and again, I am comforted by the suggestion of emerging order.

And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable finally beginning to seem surmountable.

If I've done that much, it seems less daunting to stand in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what has happened... and the tantalizing suggestion of more good things that might still lie ahead.

I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to shape and size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence. But now, as I look around, the task seems somehow more manageable… surmountable. 

As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am almost ready for Yom Kippur. I have a clearer idea of what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary work, I will find myself at the end of the process with sparkling china… lovingly polished sterling… and immaculate crystal.  And the house  - and my life - will be looking - and feeling - ready for a fresh beginning.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Posted by David Bogner on September 6, 2018 | Permalink

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