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And This is Love... Dishwasher Style

A sink full of dirty dishes. It's not a pretty picture. Yet this reminds me of a time I saw an amazing example of love, an example that impresses me to this day, twenty years later.

My uncle, Dejon, and I stopped at a little diner on Eastlake Avenue in Seattle for lunch. I don't remember its name, but it was the kind of place where businesspeople, dental hygienists, skateboarders, police officers, hippies, and new agers all ate together. Instead of a printed menu, diners chose their lunch from a hand-written list on a large chalkboard. Sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts, and everything was made by hand.

When we walked in, Dejon and I knew we were someplace special. Instead of maintaining polite social walls, the people in line at the order counter talked to each other like neighbors and friends. They couldn't help it, and neither could we. It was that kind of place.

After ordering, I stepped aside, according to order-counter protocol. When the cook handed me my plate, I turned toward my table. A gentleman in line stopped me and asked of the tortellini salad I had was good because he was thinking of ordering it. I told him I don't know yet. Handing him a clean fork, I invited him to try it for himself. He did without hesitation and loved it. The entire transaction seemed normal, because it was that kind of place.

Everyone who worked at that cafe seemed excited by the job they performed and the food they served. However, what impressed me the most, and still impresses me to this day, was what the dishwasher did. In this place, the diners did not have to bus their own tables, but everyone did because of the spirit of camaraderie we all felt. The moment they finished, they picked up their dishes and carried them to the dirty dishes cart so the overwhelmed dishwasher, working at madcap speed in the far corner of the diner, could keep cleaning dishes for the new diners coming in.

At one point, the dishwasher caught up and could have rested for a moment, but he didn't. Instead, he looked around to see what he could do for us. He saw a lady in the far corner stand and gather her dishes. Without a second thought, he picked up a dirty dishes tub and walked over to her. With a smile and a friendly word, he accepted them and went back to work, and the lady left with a smile on her face because of him.

What the dishwasher did was selflessness of the highest order, performed in the tiniest of settings. It was an act of love. It was that kind of place.

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