Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Earl Grey

Recently on a coldish morning I made myself a beautifully steamy cup of Earl Grey, my favorite tea with its slightly orange aroma, its hint of spice. I am not so much of a tea drinker as I once was: I developed my devoted relationship to coffee when I went back to work after having Katie. I'd give myself exactly the distance from my mom's house to the corner Starbucks to cry every day after leaving my baby...and then I'd have to put on my game face to go inside and order my latte. It became my talisman as I stepped inside of my teacher role and tried to compartmentalize the part of me that missed my daughter terribly.

Sipping my Earl Grey on a recent morning, however, transported me back to the days when I used to drink one every day. Like my favorite Star Trek captain, Captain Picard, I would choose my "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." each morning from the dorm cafeteria my freshman year at Stanford. Back in those days I always mixed a little cream in it before starting the walk to 8:00 AM Latin. Clutching the cup, I always took the same route: out from Twain, past the red hoop fountain and Green Library, down the steps---one of my best friends, Steve, counted them once when visiting from Berkeley (I forget now how many there were)---and onward into the Quad. I suppose the ritual gave me some kind of comfort as I wondered if my eventual alma mater and I had made a wise decision in choosing each other (we did, as it turns out) and what my life would hold beyond noun declensions. All that year I drank my tea, finding my place in the larger world as an 18-year-old. Often I was glad of heart and hopeful in spirit, and sometimes I was in worry...about the demise of my first love relationship which showed early signs of wear stretched so thin over the long distance from Stanford to UCLA, and which eventually imploded over much bigger concerns. During the winter term, when I felt the most homesick, my tea gave me comfort, as did certain music, taking long walks, and writing handwritten letters to my Nana.

The senses of taste and smell: amazing how they can transport us so easily back in time, yes?

As I drank my Earl Grey just a few mornings ago, I was suddenly 18-years-old again for just a moment. I thought for one instant about who I was back then, and all I hoped for and feared, all I thought I would do or might not get to do in life, all that I did not know and all that, despite the years in between, has remained part of my consistent essence. Just like a flash, I saw all these things.

And then I looked around, looked at my Katie playing near me in the kitchen, looked at Eric hanging out on his Boppy pillow while I fixed breakfast. How blissfully funny to know all that I know now, how well and happy it all turned out...and to wonder at the miracle of it all. If only I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry, not to waste moments given to fretting.

One of the biggest differences between myself now and myself then is knowing this: I will always be a recovering perfectionist who struggles with the idea that if I am only good enough or energetic and enthusiastic enough, no one else around me will experience conflict or unhappiness. Yet at age 30 I have gained the understanding that, really, we cannot control the actions or emotions of those around us, however much we want to take away their pains.

All we can truly control is how we react, how we let the work take place in us.

How lucky I am these days that my Earl Grey tea opens my eyes to my children and not to Latin cases. And how thankful I am that I am right where I am at this moment in time and to be old enough to understand what it feels like to live truly in a moment.