In memory of Lou Hartman, 1915-2011.
Making a cup of tea, a proper cup involving loose Assam and a strainer and gently warmed milk, is a start. So you go to the kitchen and put the kettle on and pull down the old white pot with the bright flower decal on one side. You start to feel the comfort of your task, the purpose of it filling up some of the empty space that sadness has carved into your heart. There's a reason for ritual, you discover, as you pour in a little hot water to warm the pot and then encircle it with your chilled hands: the repetition, the body memory, the soothing rhythm of things happening in a certain order and with intention.
The tea is hot and milky and for a while it is enough. But soon you realize that even though what you are experiencing is sadness and loss, there is also a request, a whisper, for celebration. A tiny acknowledgment that life and appetite must ultimately prevail. So you go to the pantry and find a crinkly package of butter cookies, just three little star-shaped ones with red candy centers, and a clementine. And a pretty plate to put them on because the request for beauty is somehow penetrating, sunbeam-like, the fog of sadness.
The clementine is, of course, a little too cheery but you gamely dig your thumb into the peel for you know that this is your responsibility now, to turn towards the brightness. The clementine answers you with a gruff, almost rude, spray of juice, sticky and fragrant. Suddenly you find yourself surrendering to it, to this little orange dictator that demands your attention and appreciation. And of course it is sweet and fills your mouth with joy.
The tea cools, and the clementine detritus curls on the table before you like the skin that a dragon would shed. You listen to the sounds of home, the tick of the clock, the refrigerator's hum. A few random and practical thoughts pop into your awareness: are there enough quarters for the laundry, will the package make it to Milwaukee on time, do hummingbirds migrate?
Slowly life gathers around you, urging you to get up from the table and start back into the busy doings of the day. You resist, lingering in the sorrow for a while longer, for that's where you last saw your old friend, the one whose passing has brought on this little one person tea party. Eventually you realize that sorrow isn't done with you yet, that it will be your companion for a while longer. So you rise from the table to sweep up the dragon's skin and wash up the dishes, a clutch of tears caught in the back of your throat. But it's OK, it's alright. You're human and you're built for this.
Related: Weekend Meditation: On Ritual and Repetition
(Image: Dana Velden)