Sunday, January 3, 2021


For as long as I can remember, likely most of the 50 years of our life together, I have been up early to brew a wake-up cup of good, strong English tea for Ellie and myself. Well, the brand has changed. Nowadays it's Yorkshire Gold; for a long while, it was PG Tips. But the ritual has been the same. Rain or shine, as they say. And this morning as I popped the tea bag into the pot it came to me that tea bags had not yet been invented when I was young. You'd heap a good measure of tea leaves in the pot, add boiling water and let it stand to brew, then you poured your tea from the pot directly into your cup. When you drank the last drops of tea from your cup, presto! Tea leaves, left clinging in strange, unpredictable patterns to the curved porcelain depths, just waiting to be read. 

You needed, of course, a trained eye to read the tea leaves. It was not something anyone could do. It was a way to foretell the future, like a crystal ball, or a tarot pack, or the palm of your hand. The phrase remains, an oddity in the language, to remind us of a different, perhaps more innocent, perhaps more trusting time. A time when the future might have seemed steadier, more stable, easier to rely on, even when it showed up in the form of random tea leaves at the bottom of your cup. 

Today's world is much different. It merits a more Buddhist mistrust in any kind of certainty. It has always been the reality, of course, that no one can predict what might happen from moment to moment in our lives, that the only thing that's certain is change itself. Still, I believe that we have lost even the illusion of security at an accelerating pace in the past century. Two massive and ruinous world wars have done their part. Life itself seems less secure. But in the past few years particularly, with our country and the world at large perpetually in a state of cliff's edge torturous suspense, unpredictability has become the norm we have to learn to live with. 

So I have no leaves in my morning cup of tea this New Year. I made our tea in the convenient modern way: with a tea bag. The bag, once used, goes down the garbage disposal, chewed up and lost forever. Even if I had the skill, I have no tea leaves to read; and that leaves me feeling more than a little sad for a past that's also lost forever. 

Please be well, everyone. Be sane and hale. And be as safe as possible.

1 comment:

Marie Smith said...

Same to you Peter.

I’d like the simpler times with the tea leaves!