Letting Go Is Not Giving Up

Lessons from a Dishwasher


In a course offered by Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, the discussion was about surrender. Many people see it as defeat, as loss, as a bitter pill.


Some people see it as letting go of something beautiful that you really want to hold onto; and they feel it as heartbreak.


But it can also feel like letting go of an anchor that would have drowned you had you not opened your hand to release it. At least that's how it's felt for me a couple of times.


There was the court order that stipulated I had to give my husband half of everything coming to me for the rest of his life (don't ever get divorced in Wyoming). That started as the very bitter pill, but ended somewhere else. I found a beautiful way to surrender through embracing a different viewpoint. It wasn't the complete freedom that true surrender can bring, but it was a respectable attempt at it. Here's that story.


The time I remember feeling surrender in its richest expression happened during a much more mundane moment. I was standing at the kitchen sink after dinner, peering with contempt into the dishwasher. My wife had partially loaded it. My wife had 'incorrectly' loaded it. This was an excuse to continue a seventeen-year-long argument we (don't) have, conducted entirely with sighs and silences, sometimes capped off with a crescendo of inaudible muttering. (All done by me, by the way. She is perfectly--and rightfully--content.)


I was in the process of trying to let go of stories I'd made up and then believed as true. I chose to examine this issue through that lens. By whose standards was I passing judgment here? Who says there's only one way to load a dishwasher? Who would I be right now if I just let go of this irritating story? And what if it weren't even "true"? What if all these years, I've just been making myself miserable every day just so I could feel superior in my kitchen?


That made me laugh. It made me laugh out loud. And suddenly, I felt so much love for my wife and her revolutionary ways of loading a dishwasher. It was so complete, I wrote a poem about it. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed discovering this moment, letting go of the anchor and flying free:


Is This Thing Loaded?


It’s late, and I’m doing the last dishes

of the day. I rinse them, swing the door down,

pull out the lower rack, and then

I sigh. Every time.


Someone designed this machine with a lot of thought.

There is a right way to load it.

Fifteen years and my wife still won’t do it.

She’s waging her own private revolution


in this two by two by three foot box.

Today she’s put the spatula longways

in the top rack. It’s lounging there

across all the little indentations


meant for cups and saucers,

legs crossed, arms behind its flat slotted head,

smoking a joint. She’s put the plates all kinky

and off kilter. I hate that.


But a couple months ago, she was gone

for a couple days, and I had to load it wrong,

just to feel her close. Now I get it.

I love my wife. She loads with panache:


The plates snap their fingers

like bohemians in black turtlenecks,

clearly enjoying the salad bowl

lying naked on her side,


waiting for the waves.

It’s jazz fusion in there.

Abstract expressionism.

Performance art.


New York City in a Kenmore.


The dishes go anywhere they want.