Contemplating the Plates


When we moved into our dream house a year ago, we unpacked the lovely platinum-rimmed china and placed them into the everyday cabinet. These plates in varying sizes, with their matching serving pieces and bowls, had been hidden away in a tall cupboard for 10 years, rarely in use, hand-washed and awed over on the few times we set the table with them yearly.

What a waste, I thought at the time. If we are to truly live, why not enjoy what we have right now?

And so I made the decision to use my fancy china every day, to enjoy this wonderful gift from my first marriage as part of our regular, routine lives. Out came the fancy silverware to match (not actual silver, just really expensive daily utensils with careful tiny dotted texture along the perimeter).

So a year has passed and we use these dishes morning, noon and night. We place them carefully in the dishwasher and use the light-china cycle when we wash them. My attitude a year ago was, if somehow the wear and tear fades the platinum designs or the tiny line around the plate center, so be it – at least we will have enjoyed owning this distinguished dishware.

Well, a year later and two plates show the marks of time. And I started to panic. Oh no, I thought, perhaps we need to hand-wash!

But for a family of six, hand-washing is a laborious effort if we really don’t have to. And, I reminded myself, they’re just dishes.

This morning, as I finished my scrambled eggs and placed the dish in the sink, I contemplated this practice we Americans have of acquiring for the sake of owning. How many items do we have that sit on shelves or behind glass cupboard doors? How many things do we purchase, eagerly, having saved up and waited for this exquisite acquisition, only to never interact with the beloved item?

And is it worth it?

Long ago and far away (and today, in many places around the globe), one had only what one needed. People lived in smaller homes, with fewer items, but simplicity breeds happiness. Too much excess becomes overwhelming, debilitating.

So why, I ask myself, need we bother with things?

Now, the other side of the conversation: on the table in my home’s entryway sit a ceramic plaque of an old European Jewish man, a beloved piece of art of my late grandfather’s. It leans on an easel and every time I pass by, I am reminded of my grandfather.

On the fireplace mantle in our living room sits a crystal dish with lid, small and used in years past for spicy red horseradish on my grandmother’s Passover table. When she died in 2013, this became one of the items that came to me, and now it sits for all to see in full view in my living room. I do not use it; I simply glance over and think of Gigi.

There are many such examples throughout my house and every house – remnants of the past, of people we’ve loved and lost, of times gone by that dance in our memories. I am glad to have them, as the decoration around my house now takes on meaning rather than being frivolous.

So these plates – their story: when I was engaged to my first husband, we went to Hudson’s (the department store that is no more but which we Michiganders just loved) and picked out plates that made me feel elegant and regal. They were expensive and my mother balked at registering for such a high-priced item.

At the time, I said, “If I don’t get them, I will be no worse off, so let’s register for these plates. They are my favorites, and it’s a dream.” And of course, some loving guests bought them for us and we used them only a few times a year for fancy holiday or Sabbath meals.

When my first marriage ended, we faced the question of who got to keep what. My ex took one set of dishes, and I kept the china, crystal and accompanying silverware. I loved it more than he did, we agreed, so I kept it. But I never used it. It stayed stored in a quiet cabinet, waiting for the right moment.

It might seem odd to use the dishes I selected before my first marriage in this, my second, but really, my ex and I hardly grew attached to this set. They were stored away more than used. And so my lovely husband and I decided this time ’round to really live, to pull out the plates and set the table and let whatever might happen befall us.

It’s hard to live in the moment. I know I’m just talking about innocuous plates here, but it’s the metaphor that carries us further. As I see some of the decoration chip away, I hesitate and pull back, wanting to hide them under cover of locked cabinet again until The Right Moment presents itself.

Except that moment never comes. And life goes on living, running us, passing by in a wave of torrent and wind, and suddenly we come to the end with full cabinets stashed with things we kept saving for some day.

I want to live in the some day. It’s a conscious choice. It’s here, now, present, a gift to unwrap in each careful minute.

Perhaps we’d all be happier if we stopped squirreling away for another time.

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