A Baptism by Dishwater, Courtesy of Mary Oliver

photo-47On days like today, when I wake up early enough that the world still has a kind of blue-lit darkness to it, I feel as though the world belongs to me alone. Snow covers the ground in patches and the sky hangs low. I stand at my kitchen sink, looking out over the canal outside my window, where wild geese gather, honking happily at me in the cold morning air.

I sip my cup of matcha, then feel the fluttering of an old woman at my back, a gray-haired poet moving about my kitchen, making impossible exhortations as she roots around in my green cupboards: “You do not have to be good,” she says. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

I try to believe this.

In the fall, outside this same kitchen window, there sprung a beautiful, bright red bush. It was an unworldly color. All season long, washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I stared at that bush in my bare feet, half-expecting it to burst into flame at any moment.

Some days, there was the rustling of leaves, a sound that, if you did not strain too hard, might be a whisper.

I have nobody who can confirm this, but I should tell you: I believe I am my best self when I am standing alone at my kitchen sink. All manner of things happen to me on that little rug where I wash the dishes. Geese descend. Poetry arises. A bush alights. 

And the voice of the burning bush, as it turns out, sounds a lot like Mary Oliver. 

Sometimes, on days like today, for one brief, blessed moment, I manage to answer the call of the geese, take up my place in the family of things. I stand on holy ground.

Then the light shifts, the moment passes, and it is only me again, standing in front of a smoldering bush, my hands warm and wrinkled with dishwater. I look out the window in wonder.

The canal has frozen over in the night and now a few geese tentatively venture out onto the ice, thrusting their webbed feet onto the cold hard surface of the water. Every step an act of faith. The rest of their gaggle looks on from the safety of land, watching and waiting, performing their own acts of faith. I know it as well as they: All is holy now.

When you wash the dishes, a Zen proverb says, the dishes also wash you. A reverse baptism of sorts.

So I swallow my last sip of tea, then plunge my hands into the soapy water, wash the mug in slow, concentric circles. My bush has turned to ash on the cold winter ground.

Still, the geese come, tiptoeing over the frozen ice in all their wildness.

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