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Use the Good Dishes

“Company is coming, use the good dishes.”

“It’s Christmas, don’t put out the regular plates, use the good dishes.

This is the refrain women of my generation heard countless times as children. It was the tribal song of our mothers, women for whom the selection of a china pattern was a rite of passage. For most of them, those beautiful plates and cups and bowls were destined to be joyfully opened during the wedding shower and then tucked neatly away in the family china cabinet where they would be proudly displayed but rarely used. Corelle-ware was for every day. For special – very special – occasions only, you used the good dishes.

My beautiful mother was the type to save things “for good”; I remember using her wedding china only a handful of times during my childhood. Like many 80’s kids (WHERE MY BARBIE GIRLS AT HEYYYY), my bathroom always seemed to contain those tiny (and increasingly dusty) soaps shaped like stars and seashells. They always matched the wallpaper and you were never allowed to use them; they were “decorative”. You could pump out all the Jergens you wanted (sorry mom, we didn’t) but don’t touch “the good soap”.

More than a decade after my mother died, I found a shoebox that contained beautifully engraved stationery I’d never seen before. The box was full of memorabilia from my parents’ wedding day – unsent invitations to the wedding and to my mother’s bridal shower; wedding cards, cocktail napkins, matchbooks from the reception...The stationery was a gorgeous, soft, robin’s egg blue, and it had my mother’s new initials on it.

She’d never used a single page of it.

She had saved it “for good”.

More than 35 years after she received it, I pulled that luxuriously thick paper with its silver engraving out of a decaying shoebox and sobbed, thinking about how much of her life my mother had left unlived – not just the years she didn’t get, but the years she spent here on this Earth but not truly living.

Her life hadn’t been wasted, not by any means; her accomplishments were many. She loved to laugh, probably more than anything else, and she certainly did a lot of laughing. She did a lot of giving, and a lot of loving. But she also put herself last just as often, and short changed herself in too many ways, saving for later what she couldn’t or wouldn’t give herself permission to enjoy today; that included loving herself.

For most of her life my mom barely had the money for necessities, let alone luxuries, so she took special care with all of her possessions, right down to the white sofas and chairs that no one was allowed to sit on and which still looked brand new when we sold them at a garage sale 20 years later. I guess when you are handed so few things of beauty, it’s difficult to let go of the ones in your hand.

Use the Good Dishes

But what about me, who has never wanted for anything? What’s my excuse for saving my joy for later? Why not use the good dishes on a Tuesday, or wear the expensive perfume to the market, or light the fancy candles simply for the sheer joy of it?

What am I waiting for? For permission? For worthiness? How many people wait for a terminal diagnosis before they start living? Or for some idealized set of circumstances before they finally decide to be happy? What are we waiting for?

Use the Good Dishes is about living in appreciation every single day. It’s about filling your one wild and precious life with experiences that bring you joy and make you feel alive. It’s about being fully present, deserving, and joyful today, right now, wherever you are, whatever that means to you.

When all is said and done for me and I go to the giant Bloomingdales in the sky (or if I don’t start behaving better, the Nordstrom)(okay, fine, Macy’s - I REALLY like curse words), I hope I can say that I have taken big risks; that I have loved big, laughed loudly, and most of all, that I said yes to what I knew my soul needed, even when that seemed scary or downright impossible.

You just have this one life; just the one. And it’s happening now.

We All Die. How Many of Us Truly Live?

I turned 40 this summer, a super scary number for me, both because of what it represents for women culturally (we’ll unite against the patriarchy in another post) and because it forced me to evaluate how fully, how joyously I’m living.

There were some gaps.

Here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to climb Everest, or get a PhD, or run a marathon (sweet merciful Jesus, I don’t even want to type the word marathon, let alone run one). I’m just going to give myself permission to say yes to joy. I am going to be a relentless explorer of who I am and what I love and I’m going to say no to everything that isn’t that.

I am going to use the good dishes.

It won’t always be massages and $6 lattes (though I do expect to make liberal and reckless use of the #treatyoself hashtag). It will require me to explore pain and weaknesses both old and new, and to confront the places where I am cheating myself, where I’m not being true to myself, either out of fear or in order to accommodate someone else’s comfort or expectations. It’s a daunting task.

But in the words of Bukowski, “We are here to unlearn the teachings of church, state, and our educational system. We are here to kill war. We are here to drink beer. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

(I went in search of photos of myself living my best life and here they are - dressed like Cinderella; pretending to be the Eiffel Tower; drunk at a Bills game; with my baby on the beach; and using my sock bun as a vase - alcohol may also have been involved. Clearly I have work to do.)

I have a lot to learn about myself, and maybe just as much to unlearn. Maybe I’ll change and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll live a really big life full of noteworthy accomplishments, or maybe it will be simple but satisfying. It’s up to me to decide, and more importantly, it’s up to me to claim it either way.

It is very possible – likely even – that I will break things, chip things, scuff and scratch them. But one thing is for sure: I’m not leaving anything in the cabinet anymore.

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