For the last 11 days, husband Jim and I went through a "detox" program, eliminating all sugar, glutens, additives and caffeine from our diets in order to cleanse our bodies.
The Elixir of Life
Today, I wonder
Are you bad as me?
And drink too many
Cups of tea?
Two in the morning
when I first awake
A third in an hour
When the first two don’t take.
And by mid-morning
I slake my thirst
With one more cup
That rivals the first.
Two cups with lunch
And then none ‘til four
When I take down my pot
And give it a pour.
For late afternoon
It’s time for High Tea
So I drink the whole pot
Just myself, I and me.
Happy Hour is next,
And rather than wine
I choose to have tea
Before I dine.
And after I’ve supped
All sweets I forsake
I choose tea for dessert
And skip all that cake!
At the end of the day,
I’m warmed by my cup,
And have my last sips
To wrap the day up.
When at last I sleep
Away I float
On a river of tea
My cup for a boat.
And so, I ask you,
Are you bad as me?
And drink too many
Cups of tea?
I first began my April BJP with this poem. And then, as I beaded my river of tea day after day, I began to ruminate on the important role tea plays in my life. How tea is a constant in my life, A river that runs through me, carrying me through every day and every moment.
I come from a long line of tea drinkers. My grandmother drank tea; my mother drank tea; my father drinks tea; all my siblings drink tea; my son drinks tea, and I can't get enough of the stuff.
The ritual and routine of making and drinking tea has carried me through many of life's joys and sorrows. I can't tell you how many gallons of tea we must have consumed while planning baby showers, graduations, weddings and funerals.
Tea is a great eraser, a salve, a remedy to the ills and the trials of every day life. My mother would often say to all of us, as we plopped exhausted in a chair after a hard day of school, and later, after a long day of work having just picked up our children from daycare..."Have a cup of tea and two Tylenol. It will make you feel better." And she was right. Only I save the two Tylenol for those really rough days.
Tea provides a segue from one event to another and is the excuse to sit around for hours the night after a big party and do a post-mortem on the event -- who was there, what did they say -- didn't everyone have a good time...
Tea provides a welcome mat, an opener for friends and family who stop by to visit...It says "Welcome to my home. I'm glad you are here and let us begin again to know one another"...
For my family, it's a way of demonstrating love and we each know how the other likes their elixir prepared...some with two sugars, some with none...And now, I have Jack and I'm proud to say that Jack is firmly ensconced in the ritual of tea. And, he knows without a shadow of a doubt, that when I make him a cup of tea, it means "I love you."
One of the last things my mother requested before she died was to have a cup of tea. The day it happened, my family and I were at home taking care of her. Mom had an aggressive form of leukemia and when the disease finally overtook her, she wanted nothing more than to die at home and so we took care of her there.
Mom had reached the stage of dying where she couldn't really converse anymore, her speech was difficult to understand, she was bed bound and she hadn't had anything to eat or drink for about two weeks except water. We knew we were getting close to the end.
So, this day, it was a shock when Mom was adamant about wanting to sit up in the recliner -- we hadn't done that in weeks either. So we moved her to the chair and she was trying to say something and I was struggling to understand. "Water?" She shook her head no. "Pillow?" No. And then, I couldn't believe what I thought she had said...
"I'm sorry Mom, I'm trying to understand. I think you just said that you wanted a cup of tea?" I asked incredulously. And she nodded and a smile touched her eyes. "You want a cup of tea?", I repeated with delight and wonder and hope in my voice..."Really?" And she nodded yes.
It was an awakening of sorts. Imagine having had a couple of weeks of minimal communication from Mom and all of the sudden...this! She wanted a cup of tea! It was a moment of joy amidst many moments of sadness.
So I walked out of the bedroom and when I did so, my father looked up and asked with his eyes..."What does she need?" And I told him, with a big smile..."Mom wants a cup of tea!"
"She what? A cup of tea?" "No....Really?" He asked repeating the request to make sure he had understood. And I said it again. Then a big smile spread across his face and he said, "Well, then, let's make a cup of tea!" And he hopped up and busied himself putting on the water, getting out the cups, etc.
And, as we helped Mom to hold the cup...her shoulders began to relax, the tension dropped from her face, and she settled back into the moment as the warmth spread from the cup to her tired hands...and she just held it.
After a few minutes, I could tell she wanted a sip so I helped her bring the cup to her lips. Mom hadn't sipped from a cup in weeks and I was overly optimistic and believed that she would actually be able to sip like she used to -- I mean, amazing things were happening this day...
Well, she couldn't manage it very well. She sputtered and coughed as some of the liquid went into her lungs and the tea dribbled down her chin. But she smiled. She smiled and croaked out, clear as day, "It's good..." which made us all smile together.
Her shoulders relaxed a little more and we sat there for quite a while helping her to hold her cup and to take little sips of her final cup of tea. She died about another week or so after that and never requested another thing.
And on the morning that she died, after we had made the important phone calls and we had that intermittent silence, waiting for the world to show up...realizing that we were in transition to another ritual that would carry us through our grief, waiting for it to start. Because we, the care team, had nothing left to do. She was gone. This woman whom we had loved and cared for to the best of our ability no longer needed us.
The silence was tangible; it felt threatening. Every sound, every tick of the clock was amplified and deafening.
So, I got up and started moving just to take the silence away. And I walked into the kitchen, and there on the counter, were the cups all in a row, hot water having just been poured into each one. My brother Mark had made us tea. And so that's how we beat that powerful silence, that void. We filled it with tea while we drank our last cup with our Mom and waited for the world to show up.
Tea is powerful. It's an Elixir of Life. It is the cheapest therapy I know and it is a universal language of love.
And so, when I have reached the end of my journey, and I can no longer express it for myself --
I hope someone will remember how I like my tea.
Plain old Lipton, one level teaspoon of sugar, steeped for 6 minutes with a dollop of skim milk.
That'll be all I need. Thanks. [Reprinted from Plays with Needles, June 23, 2009]