Wash the plate, Not because it is Dirty, not because you are told, but because you LOVE the person who will use it next- Mother Theresa
I make it a rule now that I’m not allowed to own fish. I killed somewhere around 10 in very rapid succession in my early college days. And not really knowing why, I just decided fish were not for me and the heartbreak was too much for me or the fish.
In the world of love languages acts of service doesn’t even show up on my radar. If you do something for me I assume you thought it needed doing. If I do something it’s because I thought it needed doing. Love doesn’t even enter my mind. I may even feel judged or intruded upon. I do not even remotely associate cleanliness or chore doing with morality. Only need or pride.
I have so many historical personal reasons for this. Of people who did so much around me or for me but out of duty or self-righteousness or resentment. But not love. (But these are probably just in my list of excuses and desperately trying to pass the blame).
And sometimes I wonder. Is it worth it? Should I really spend any effort on something that comes with such pain to me?
I read blog post after blog post about how “the dishes can wait for another day” or “the piles of laundry aren’t anything compared to the memories you could make,” and I think “Done! I’m already not worried about those things! Can I have my award for successful living now please?”
Now if you walk into my house, don’t expect it to look like it is owned by someone on “Hoarders.” I understand the need of chores. Laundry eventually gets done, dishes are actually reluctantly done on a daily basis, tripping hazards are eventually seen to. I’m just not trying to win any prizes. I’m happily surviving in this part of my life most of the time. My ambitions involve thriving at friendship, community, creative works, but not order, tidiness, or general management of physical stuffs. I get by and I don’t look back. If I clean for guests it’s to prevent their discomfort, not to win their good judgment. And really, it’s only done to the point I think it must be to function.
I promise you that my mother tried very very hard. That woman organizes her used tin foil by size. But I got to be a little bit in love with my messy self. I saw it as creative, and definitely easier. And from my perspective, fathoms, eons, decades, miles, and every other measurement I can think of happier. But it wasn’t always that way.
In college, I thought that all my suspicions of what was actually necessary were confirmed. I wasn’t one of those girls who lost sleep trying to make myself look like something I wasn’t in the morning with hours of hair care and makeup. I never thought twice about walking across the parking lot in my jammies with bed head if I needed something. I was never terrified to present a less than perfect image because I was so very very content with my less than perfect self.
I felt fortunate to not be running in that race. I tended to look on the girls overwrought with insecurity about their looks, their planners, their reputation, and every thing a person could look at with…pity.
The tricky part is, I never could understand why people seemed to have a bad impression of me a great deal of the time (yes, please feel free to make a confused face or spit out whatever drink was in your mouth here). I didn’t totally abandon my physical responsibilities. (Ok, I didn’t after somewhere Senior year of high school. Before that please don’t look up my yearbook photos). I had a basic makeup routine. Basic clothes that I usually selected by picking out outfits on mannequins in the store (please tell me I’m not the only one laissez faire enough to do this), some shoes and jewelry to throw in now and then, and a five minute hair routine that got me out the door with mostly dry hair.
It’s funny how someone can be totally unaware of the water they’re swimming in or that it even exists.
Before all of that, I have this memory: early on in my Freshman year of college, I was feeling totally overwhelmed and lonely in a way that made no sense to me. I made a meeting with my RD to talk about it.
“I just feel like I can’t do it all. I think of everything to do and I feel like I’m going to fail.”
She gave me advice about planners and lists, and in five minutes finished a little speech that ended with a smile that clearly said “I think I’ve just solved all of your problems and given you brand new wonderful information you lucky girl you.”
But I said, “Yeah, I’ve used planners. I’ve made lists. Usually I lose them or forget to bring them with me. I’ve tried…well kind of everything.”
She looked suddenly totally uncomfortable. “So what kind of grades do you get? What are you hoping to do in college?”
“Oh,” I said. “I get A’s. I was the top of my class in high school. I’m pretty sure I’ll get mostly A’s again.”
She looked even more uncomfortable. “Then what on earth is the problem?!”
I looked down at my hands in my lap. “I don’t know. It’s just that none of it feels good. It feels like everyone else knows something I don’t. I still feel like I’m failing.”
She gave me an awkward pat. Then an awkward hug. (Awkward because I didn’t want either). And then she said something about another appointment and left.
I don’t think we ever spoke again after that day.
Really successful ambitious people do not understand a “successful” person who still thinks there’s a problem and would rather have something else.
So from then on I decided to just go with it. Whatever “it” was. I let there be a mess. I kept piles of papers and confusing computer files and jumped out of bed 15 minutes before class, showered and ran with wet hair to class, and just kept the faith. I believed with all of my heart that if I’d proved I could succeed like this, all I needed to do was to stop worrying about it. All I needed was to decide the mess was ok. The key to happiness wasn’t to stop being a mess. It was just to decide to be happy whether I ever fixed it or not. And I came equipped with a good attitude and a lot of apologies (and don’t forget tears and excuses!) to fill in the gaps whenever faith wasn’t enough.
And my dirty secret was that I had to say “no” to a lot. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t hang out with new friends. I didn’t join everything I wanted to. I never signed up to be a leader of anything. I quietly often hated how out of control I felt, and how unambitious. And I woke up each new day, took a breath, and decided that it was the best I could do so I needed to get over it. My day of doing was probably going to hurt some. It was going to feel not as good as it could. I just needed to believe that it was.
But you know what happens when someone who is very good at being a mess all by themselves lives life as well as they can?
They eventually want to share their life with someone who feels quite differently about the mess. Burdened by it.
And they eventually have children that maybe they’d like to teach how not to be a mess, and maybe to not see being a mess as normal.
It’s funny, because when you are a basically “good” kid who followed all of the rules (mostly) in a very conservative upbringing, it can be hard to relate to a story like David’s.
But then, maybe, like me, you realize that your biggest, hugest, and ugliest sins involve all of the things you don’t do.
Always expecting other people to pick up the slack.
Never taking a risk where you might make a mistake.
Never reaching out to help because rejection is possible.
Never going to the thing because maybe you’re not wanted.
Never learning the skill because maybe you can’t do it.
Never having the conversation because maybe they’ll never talk to you again.
Never admitting fault.
Never admitting weakness.
Never learning how to really do the dishes out of love.
And never saving the poor fish by paying attention to small needs and dirty tanks.
All of my fish died because of the things I didn’t do for them. Neglect is often far worse than mistakes. What else am I killing in my life this way?
I’m a little broken this week sitting in my own shadow.
So I feel the need to issue some sort of happy ending or call to action. But I may need to make a part two in a bit to give myself time to get back there.
For now…please save the fish.