Garbage disposal meditations on retirement

by Donald Schell

I was at my office sorting through books and papers, gear and artifacts when the plumber called. We’re closing the office at the end of June when I formally retire and begin to draw my pension from Church Pension. My office is across the street from St. Gregory’s where I used to be the rector, and in fact, was my last office as the rector. The project of sorting, cleaning out, and purposing forward the accumulation of forty plus years of priesthood and teaching is daunting. Part of it feels like grieving. Some if it is oddly joyful. And I’m while I do this project I’m also enjoying making myself a new study/office at home.

My house is about five blocks from my office and when the plumber called (well before he’d said he was coming) and said he was waiting in front of the house, I hurried home to let him in, showed him the leaking, dead garbage disposal, and set my computer on the dining table to begin work on a piece of writing while he (and a plumber colleague) worked in the kitchen. Apparently the spirit of the Disposal took possession of my computer. Here’s what appeared –

At twenty-three and a half, the Garbage Disposal was feeling old, but it knew had served faithfully, taking whatever garbage the family dished out. Though it rarely complained, a disposal can get a little weary. As the days grind on, blades wear down – like an old horse’s teeth (or a human’s for that matter). Joints begin to collapse and fluids start leaking out in troublesome ways. These are embarrassing things that disposals don’t like to talk about.

The Disposal had offered to resign several times. It would stop grinding and wait quietly to see who noticed. What did they think what it couldn’t make its blades spin? Without speech or language, it could only say “mmmmmm.” “Restart” was what they seemed to hear it say. They’d simply muck out what was in it, turn that hidden little crank on its underside, hit the reset and try again. The Disposal was trying to say “enough,” but whatever they heard, they kept saying, “You can do it.” The Disposal didn’t welcome those words, but tried to live up to their optimistic visions of it. They didn’t seem to understand that trying hard always had a limit. The Disposal couldn’t last and knew it. Felt it actually. Its seals were disintegrating and water was leaking out the bottom, a very sad way to go after so many years of service.

Two young plumbers arrived. One did remark that he was a year younger than the Disposal, but otherwise they were kind. They respected the disposal and commended its long, faithful performance. They gave their estimate on replacement cost. $300. The Disposal did its best to hold everything together waiting to hear the Owner’s, “yes.” And thankfully, the Owner did say “yes.”

The Disposal was even more relieved than it had imagined it would be. Time to hand on the baton. Out to pasture. Over the hill. Maybe some of its metal would be recycled. Maybe next time it would be part of a jet engine and get to travel. Or if it was really lucky maybe some of its steel would go into a stainless alloy and get made up as silverware. Imagine getting to taste the food the way the cook meant it to be tasted! But the Disposal was ready for whatever came next.

Now the Disposal was sitting on the kitchen floor. They’d installed its replacement. They flipped the switch. How the replacement’s “whirrrr” took it back. So very enthusiastic. The Disposal smiled at memories of bright, sharp blades and feeling ready for whatever came. “Bring it on,” it used to say to itself. And in another way, that’s what it was saying now. Whatever is next, bring it on.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

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