Though we never formally laid out the details of our agreement, it works for us: my roommate Laura cooks the meals and I wash the dishes. She serves us mounds of fluffy white rice and succulent meats; I scrape the slimy rice pot and scrub my finger nails into the baked bits of lamb or chicken stuck to the Pyrex pans. It works for us—an even trade.
One evening a few weeks ago while we sat playing on our iPads, I felt ornery. “What if I told you I don’t exist. That you cook these meals and set a place at the table for me, but I don’t exist. You live alone with an imaginary friend. I’m not real. You just created me out of your loneliness.”
She didn’t even look up from her screen. “But you have to be real. My dishes get washed.”
So there it was—the proof of my existence. Not that I touch lives through my writing or clarify an author’s message through my editing but that I’m faithful to wash the dishes.
“What if I told you I don’t exist?”
It makes sense. Mom looks forward to my visits home because she knows it means she’ll have a dish washer. After dinner or lunch at my parents’ home, sometimes even before everyone is finished eating, I collect the dishes, like setting the table in reverse. I scrape, scrub, rinse, stack. While the rest of the family sits around the table discussing politics, religion, and the overall condition of the world, I stand with suds on my arms, warm water soaking my sleeves as I swipe a dishcloth over the mashed potato clumps and spaghetti sauce splotches and gravy smears. The patterns reappear on the center of the dishes, ready to be used at the next meal. I stack the dishes in the cupboard just to set them out again, wash them just to watch them get dirty. But it doesn’t get old to me, making dirty things clean, the service no one else wants to do.
And it didn’t get old to Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s who was assigned to fix the monastery’s meals. He said, “Lord of all pots and pans and things, make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates! The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
We all have something God has given us to do, some small or large thing that depends upon us for historical record or family lore, world acclaim or little note, a mission for eternity. Do it well, whatever it may be—the proof of your existence.