True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost. Arthur Ashe
I need a hero. Let me be specific: I need a hero who will stand at ready, sleeves rolled up, poised to act and make a difference in what I find to be one of the loneliest battle fields I have ever been to. It is a field, which collects emptiness after others have had their fill. It bears the remains of what was used and the soiled marks of what has been left behind. It is a place others scurry past, unwilling to linger, lest they be called on to undergo a deplorable task, the thought of which makes them shudder.
I speak of none other than the unspeakable battlefield of The Full Kitchen Sink, and I need a hero who will willingly wash the dishes after a meal.
“Sorry – Too Busy Saving the Earth Today…”
One of the best parts of the day, for many families, is the shared meal at the end of what has almost certainly been a busy day. Everyone is usually exhausted but eager to tuck into a hot and freshly prepared home-cooked meal. Yet, no one is ever quite willing to spend time in front of the sink, washing the dishes after the meal they have just consumed. American author P.J. O’Rourke said it best, I think, when he wrote, “Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”
In St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he wrote:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Where does the good fight take place? Does it happen in some far-flung country halfway around the world? Is it violent and chaotic and noisy? In fact, our everyday lives are made up of made little battles (and some big ones thrown in for good measure, perhaps) of a choice between God’s will and anything else, which takes us away from Him. This “good fight” St. Paul writes of is happening all the time, in all the places we are and in all the ways we encounter God. Our life is that race he speaks of.
The race does not end when we get home, tired after a long hard day at work or school. It keeps going until the end of our earthly life and we must be mindful of this. Tiredness is a very real thing for most, if not all, people. Exhaustion is almost taken for granted as a necessity to prove our hard work and a valid excuse for bailing on the little things, which make a difference at home and with the people closest to us. With apologies to St. Paul, perhaps we would like to be able to say ourselves, “I have cooked a good meal. I have shared a meal with those I love. I have washed the dishes. I have kept the faith.”
The Blessed Burden
These days, people hurry around, immersed in the importance of what they do and who they want to be, what they want and what they need. At the end of their workday, they are spent, having run themselves ragged, squeezing as much as they can out of the day until they are so dry, they make a barren desert look lush. They go home at the end of their crazy whirlwind day and are practically like an electronic device drained to 1% battery life. The basics of human conversation and re-connection, home life and quiet moments together have become just a bit too much to take. Dish-washing is not just a chore. It has become an unbearable burden.
This same “burden”, though, is made up of those whose names are written in our hearts. Many times, the blessing of the family we come home to could feel like an unwelcome obligation. Yet, St. Teresa of Calcutta said it aptly:
“Wash the dishes not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.”
The meal which was prepared, stories of the day barely contained by those eager to share, the dishes which we eat from and must then be washed and put away – these are all there because of the presence of those whom we have been blessed to have in our lives. The food might provide physical energy; however, it is the ordinary familial re-connection, which helps to sustain our hearts and minds.
The Folly of a Crammed Life
The irony in all of this is that there probably has never been a time in history when there have been so many conveniences at our fingertips. Lighting fast advances in technology have made it easier to multi-task and do things quicker and easier. Has this made for a better quality of life? Not necessarily, since the crammed life is definitely not a happier one. Many of us now think we have to be busy at all times, doing something hugely important or entertaining or both – otherwise, we are missing out. On what, exactly – I am not sure. What I do know is these modern conveniences and high-speed pace of life have not really made it easier to be together as a family.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for a return to the Stone Age. That is unnecessary. What would be good, though, is for us to grab the wheel of the runaway car, which is our life in the middle of the world and takes back control of where we put our attention and energies. At the end of the day – really, at the end of our lives – what is it, which we will regret not having done or made time for?
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:38-42)
I can imagine how Martha, in this Gospel scene, must have felt. Maybe her sister Mary was the dishwasher and she was missing her help in the kitchen? Perhaps, and yet Jesus is definitely not saying housework is not important. We who care for the home and the family know this blessed work is how we show our love for those around us. Still, this was no ordinary visitor or friend who had just dropped by. This was Jesus Himself, the Messiah, to Whom countless people flocked and listened and appealed for help. This was not your run-of-the-mill social call.
When Jesus spoke to Mary and likely anyone who really listened to Him, they must have felt as those two disciples on the road to Emmaus did:
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:32)
Jesus’ words to Martha may have been the reset button she needed to be reminded of what was truly important at that moment when our Lord was with them. So while our work, chores, responsibilities and social commitments are quite essential and make up the pieces of our lives, it is our faith and the grace of God, which acts as the threads, which bind all these pieces together to make for a stronger fabric. Just as much as we need food, water and air to survive, so too do we need time to be with our Father God.
The Reality of the Dish-washing Hero
I started this article stating the fact of my need for a hero. This is true, and I dare say the world needs heroes. Although it is very entertaining to watch the plethora of cinematic heroes battle it out with the villainous threats and monsters, which always seem to be plotting the demise of the good citizens of the planet Earth, these are not the heroes I mean. Nor am I referring to those who have “earned” their heroic tags by being: (a) really great at a sport, (b) widely known to have given scads of money to this or that charity or save-the-earth movement, (c) so incredibly good-looking, it hurts to look at them. Where life hits the road, these are not what truly matter and make for a true hero.
Heroism is not in the bright or the loud, the pretty or the luscious, the sweet or the bountiful. It is in the quiet and hidden, where those who are in need and cry out are heard. It is where those who are in pain are soothed and consoled, cared for and loved. It is in the battlefields of the sink-full of dirty dishes, the minimum wage-paying service jobs, the thankless help provided by those who have put others ahead of themselves without needing or wanting to be recognized. And their heroism does not escape the loving gaze of He Who was crucified like a criminal and resurrected as only God can.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Luke 25:34-40)