what do it mean?
I don’t know where it came from, my intertubes moniker, the title for this blog, I really don’t. I’ve been using it for, what, nine years now. I’m the tearful dishwasher and this place is the dishwasher’s tears, with that question: “How do we reconcile the beauty with the horror?”
I think I have my answer. Not to the reconciliation, but to what this image means.
Of course, if you know me at all, know this place and the vibe here at all, it will come as no surprise that this answer is provisional, incomplete, and only leads to more questions.
I think of this guy, I’ve always thought of him, seen him in my mind’s eye, he really is the tearful dishwasher- this part has always been there from the beginning: a guy, a humble guy, quiet, hardworking, keeps to himself. Probably his english isn’t that good. Probably he’s got a cleft palate or a lazy eye or something. Maybe a club foot. I don’t know, some mark, something that sets him apart a little bit, makes him feel a little bit uncomfortable about how he presents to the world. And he works in the back of this shit-hole restaurant bar club whatever place, someplace busy and loud and run-down. His boss is impatient, a little bit mean, comes in and yells, storms out.
You know the place I’m talking about.
The kitchen opens onto the back alley where the garbage is piled high and there’s grease staining everything, that bright metallic smell of rancid oil and old, wet garbage. His apron is damp and stained and he is damp and stained, too. There’s a big pile of dirty dishes that never ends, the busyboys just keep piling them up in an endless parade. There’s a rack where the clean ones go, all wet and steaming and gleaming, white plates and bowls and cups and the silvergray pots and pans, lids and sheets, the silverwear jangly and sharp and loud, everything loud. The sudsy water with bits of food floating in it, the steam rising off of it like out of a swamp, beading on his face and his bald head, mixing with his tears that flow without stopping as he grabs the next plate and plunges it into the hot water and scrubs it clean.
That’s it. Just a guy washing dishes, crying. Maybe he goes home after work to a wife and kids in a cramped basement apartment he shares with four other guys or maybe he sleeps on a cot in the kitchen. Maybe he smokes, standing out in the dank alley, the back door propped open. Maybe he drinks. You don’t know. We don’t know.
We just see him from behind, working away. I don’t know how we know that he’s crying, it’s not like he makes a lot of noise at it, I think it’s just that we know the title and so we think he must be crying. We know he is. It’s maybe just that we can’t see it.
Okay, so what is that all about?
Maybe you should stop reading here, shut this page down, go click on something else. It’s never good when someone tells you their take on something like this. And that’s what I’m about to do. With the proviso: this is my own take, it doesn’t have anything to do with him, not really. He’s his own thing.
I think about the Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, sitting all serene and beatific in the shade of the Bodhi tree, touching the earth with one hand, his moment of enlightenment. That’s one thing, that’s an image of what we’re after. It’s instructive, it’s beautiful and holy.
But there’s this other guy, this dishwasher. He’s ordinary in every way. And he’s doing this humble job. Washing the dishes. Taking something unclean and making it clean. Nothing important, nothing earth-shattering. Just grab a dirty plate, clean it, grab another one. He just keeps doing it. The pile of dirty dishes never gets any smaller. He breaks some of them. Sometimes he’ll have a whole tray full of clean ones and he’ll trip and fall down the stairs with them and smash ’em all. Picks himself up, goes back and washes more dishes.
He’s crying. Right? We know that. If we stood right behind him, real close, like we are now, we can see his shoulders move up and down a little bit like he’s sobbing. We can try to lean over and look, we can’t see his whole face but maybe we can see his cheek on one side and there’s tears going down it but really, it’s kinda hard to say because there’s all his sweat dripping off him, too, and the steam rising up and coating his skin and sometimes soapy water splashes up on him- it’s hard to tell but, yeah, he could be crying. Pretty sure.
And you know, you know he’s crying because he knows that there is suffering in the world. He’s crying out of compassion for all of that suffering that goes on, as endless and relentless as his own pile of dirty dishes.
But there’s this other thing, and you don’t know if this is true or not, but he knows it. He knows it’s true because it’s what really makes him weep.
He’s seen the same thing the Buddha has seen. He’s seen the glory of this world directly, the awesome terribleness in this vast, limitless, ever-unfolding show that is the present moment, that is everything just exactly as it is. It’s too big to be contained by the human heart, and it leaks out of his eyes in an unending stream of vast and limitless joy.
He keeps washing the dishes.