The first active thing I remember doing after I emerged from my bedroom two or three days after John died was setting the tea kettle on the stove. Something I would have done "Before" everyday to prepare tea for myself and John. With that seemingly small action I was very aware of all eyes turned on me from the dining table and all conversation immediately silenced round me.
I didn’t say anything for several minutes as I waited for the normal, everyday sound of the teapot’s shrill whistle to call out while I measured tea leaves into the teapot’s steeper. A few minutes later I watched the hot water pour slowly from the kettle to the teapot, causing the tea leaves unfurl and wind around each other as steam wafted up and into the ether. I said nothing to anyone, I caught their gazes, worried and expectant, but I had nothing to say, so I lowered my eyes and watched my hands instead find the honey, slowly measured with a spoon, watched it ease off of the spoon and slide smoothly into the handmade earthenware cup John and I had bought two years prior during our first trip to Door County, where we made fast friends with lovely places and even lovelier people.
I waited the three minutes for the tea to steep properly, I poured the tea into the cup the sound of liquid building upon itself somewhat soothing to me, a sound I had heard at least hundred times before, liquid into vessel then spoon whispering clink, clink, clink around the mug as I stirred. Then the mug warm, easing the world and reality I was in, it was just one of the impossibly few things that now remained the same as I held it in between both hands and stared past my family and friends who now were gaping at me, eyes wide at my silence and I’m sure also my disheveled three days of no shower, filthy hair, bad breath and general frightened and feral animal like look and gaze about my eyes.
In a moment of bravery I looked toward my mom. I held my mom’s gaze for a very painful moment, a moment in which I knew she saw it all-the depth of brokenness, the pain, the hemorrhaging from my heart, my soul, my core. I saw in her tremendous helplessness and fear for me and in an attempt to normalize my world I said, “I just wanted tea.” Everyone nodded their heads as if they were trying to tiptoe around a sleeping giant, but I merely went to the recliner, tucked my legs up under me, grabbed a blanket to cover myself up, as I was still shaking and literally cold with shock, and held that cup of hot liquid, of normalcy, in my hands for a long, long time. I’m certain I drank it but I don’t remember that. I only remember its warmth and it’s incredibly small but necessary touchstone to the world “Before”
That ritual still sticks with me. I think it has been an important aspect of my easing into the new normal that is now my reality. When I visited Oklahoma last winter and needed a touchstone to my daily world I sought out a cup of tea. When I started a new job and cried all the way to work and even harder on the way home nearly every day for the first six months or so, my solace was found in a cup of tea. When the insomnia reigned and the night slept on without me, again, the ritual of tea eased me into the loneliness and then into the solitude and silence of those long hours. Warm, sweet liquid full of comfort and nourishment poured into me, physically and spiritually, caressing the deepest of my wounds from loss, soothing me in times where nothing else really could. Even now so many months later, when my world is stumbling forward and I need the feeling of being at least ever so slightly righted, the ritual of tea begins, and it to carries me to the safe, the known, the normal.
The ritual of tea takes me to a place of okay-ness that nothing else does. I wonder if others have a ritual that has helped them to touch the safe, the known, and helped them make it through the day? I certainly hope so-without mine I’m not sure exactly what I would have used a coping tool for this wretchedly hard path that had to be traveled. Still, I have traveled it, often without my shoes, sometimes without brushing my hair or teeth, and once without real pants when I nearly wore pajama bottoms to work, but never have I forgotten to pack and travel without everything needed for the ritual of tea-a ritual that takes me to a place of safety and stability , a ritual that helps me touch the beauty and love that was in my world once, “Before”