Listening to the Dishwater

Drawing of washing the dishes

We’ve been doing the dishes by hand lately. It’s the daily ritual. (We’ve tried skipping a day, but quickly regret our past selves’ laziness the next.) Some days the kids help out, but inevitably, once the youngsters are in bed, the house gets quiet, and I turn to the mess that is the kitchen.

Yes, we do have a dishwasher, but a few weeks ago we noticed it had sprung a leak, and simply haven’t had the energy to fix it, nor the desire to pay up for a new one. It’s 2021, and obviously nobody should have to actually, physically, with their own hands, wash their own dishes, but we have taken on this unglamorous burden, and have found some surprising benefits.

Something about getting deep into the soap suds activates my mind. As my hands occupy themselves with scrubbing and rinsing, my thoughts from the day slowly bubble to the surface.

I’ve found this to be the time where I actually listen. Not so much to my immediate surroundings, but to the emails, texts, interactions, conversations, all the inputs of the day. Like a football coach, I review the day’s tapes, though quite unintentionally.

Listen Later

I’ve got this app on my phone called Pocket, and I use it throughout the day to bookmark articles and videos I want to save for later.

I’ve started to notice I actually do a lot of “listening later”. I have so many inputs throughout the day, so much to consume, see, listen to, it simply can’t all be processed in the moment. It all needs to be taken like film to the dark room to soak and develop, bookmarked for later reading. The memories don’t always come out clearly after soaking. Sometimes they’re clouded by my own pride, jealousy, or defenses. But other times the clouds fade away as meaning comes suddenly up to the surface.

More than once I’ve had a stroke of insight, “Oh, that’s what they meant in that email!” Or, quite often, “my wife was right about that.” My guard is down, and I’m able to listen to the things everyone was trying to say while I was too busy trying to talk or get other things done.

These quiet margins, often elusive in the midst of a busy household filled with energetic kids and over-active screens, have proven more essential than ever.

Some day we’ll fix our dishwasher, re-joining the ranks of modern society, but until then, you’ll find me by the sink, listening to the dishwater.