Gone to (Tea) Pot

There are things that must happen in a Missy morning. But the greatest of these is tea.

Get the kettle singing. Ready the Tetley’s – always Tetley’s, never any flavored stuff. Mix it up with a bit of milk, enough to turn a black cup into the beige of a Volvo station wagon.

Oh. And make a full pot. There will be refills.

“I wan’ m’ tea.”

“Coming right up.”

For all her disabilities, both physical and mental, Missy is still the daughter of an English mother. And that means a cup of tea is as much a reflex for her as her puzzle ball or her 120-decibel stereo. It launches her off to her day program in the morning and it greets her on her return in the afternoon, a cup of liquid welcome. A sip of home.

Often, it’s a sip of memory, too.

In my mind, the memories are always of Val, who was Missy’s mom and my grandmother-in-law. One of Longmont’s ubiquitous “English ladies,” Val passed on many things to Missy, including a small stature, a love of dancing and a steaming teapot. I never visited the house for long before a cup found its way to me – though I picked up my share of wry looks for taking my own tea black, without milk or sugar.

I know. American barbarian, that’s me.

Val’s gone now. But the tea remains, the cup held carefully in her daughter’s shaky hand. It’s a space in the day, one where nothing has to happen, where it’s OK to just be.

That’s a small accomplishment by itself.

“Being” isn’t something that’s greatly prized in our country today. We’re a nation of doers, where who you are is measured by what you’ve accomplished, or at least whether you have the decency to look busy. We treat absence of activity like a mom faced with bored children: “If you don’t have anything to do, I can find you something.”

No time for reflection. No time for discovery. No time for second thought, or maybe even a first one.

That’s a great way for a piston to live. For a person? Not so much. Having that small space in the day is like having a period in a sentence: essential for any clarity and meaning.

But there’s more to it as well. At a very basic level, a cup of tea is a small act of caring.

I lived for nine years in Kansas. Not once in those nine years did I enter a home without being offered a glass of water or a cup of coffee in the first minute. It was the fundamental decency of a host or a neighbor, welcoming another with something of your own.

It was a small ritual. But it had a big message behind it. Stay a while. There’s no rush. You’re among friends.

It’s those little, almost routine acts that can mean the most.

Love doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. It can be – I still remember the newlywed obsession that led me to organize a “12 Days of Christmas” onslaught of surprise gifts for my wife Heather – but truth to tell, the saintly and the passionate can be a bit intimidating for the rest of us. Fearing not to be perfect, we can fail to be merely good.

But a life lived with love can find a voice even through the everyday and the mundane. Maybe especially through them.

Maybe it’s in the things we do without thought that we see who we truly are.

And once in a while, the ripples of those small efforts for another come back in a wave.

This morning, after getting ready for the day, Missy looked up at me with a sweet smile. She reached out with both arms.

“Love me?” she asked, eyes sparkling.

The hug that followed was warm and long.

And then, we went downstairs for tea.