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At a recent fundraiser for Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, I was greeted by these words as I sat down to afternoon tea:
When the world is all at odds
And the mind is all at sea
Then cease the useless tedium
And brew a cup of tea.
Hospice and Home Care of Juneau provides excellent, compassionate services to a wide range of patients in their homes, but the agency is perhaps best known for the care provided to dying patients and families. Employees and volunteers walk alongside the dying and their loved ones, assisting them in understanding that death, a normal part of living, can be managed with dignity and grace.
It seems to me that death and afternoon tea make fine companions. None of us will live forever and there is nothing at all we can do to alter that fact. And yet, most of us live lives racing here and there, in a world "all at odds" with minds often "all at sea." It is almost as if our scurrying about, building reputations, scrapbooks of experience, material treasure chests, and financial security might fend off the inevitable end of our lives. A cup of tea, a moment of prayer, sitting in meditation, all offer in a small measure the challenge our death offers: peace with ourselves beyond all that is transitory.
I have a sister who comes home from work each day and, without fail, ceremoniously makes a cup of tea and invites her son to join. The busy day stops, the busy evening has not yet begun. Time stands still as they share over tea. I was excited for her influence on my fast-paced life when she came for a visit a few weeks ago. One afternoon, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her reach her arm out the car window and dump the afternoon tea. I had hurried her out of the house, planning to drag the tea along.
Our human need for food and a roof over our heads is often the driving force behind our busy lifestyles. Accumulating money and things doesn't seem to be the cure for unhappiness or depression, nor the basis for joy or peace. So much of what has become standard everyday life serves to separate us from one another rather than connect us. Perceiving ourselves as separate, we become capable of indifference and cruelty to one another and to the precious world that surrounds us.
A cup of tea offers a moment out of the business. Death insists. Taking time for tea, to make a ritual of simply being unproductive might be one of the most powerful steps we can take to reconnect with our deepest selves, with one another, and with the world around us. Our separateness fades as we slow our pace, relinquish our insistence on how the day ought to evolve, loosen the reigns of control.
In the stillness of times like afternoon tea, I make space for awareness of the miracle of the water I sip, the air I breathe, the breathtaking beauty of the majestic mountain behind my home that is held and caressed by low-lying clouds. I hear and am heard when I share with friends and family in such stillness. Gratitude and joy have room to flood in. Why wait for death to force us to meet such peace?
Cathy Cuenin worked as a nurse and educator with Hospice and Home Care of Juneau for many years. She is presently the nurse at Riverbend Elementary School.