I started drinking tea when I got my first job, at 23.
For me it has always been Darjeeling leaf tea, brewed in scalding hot water for five minutes. In those days I took it with milk and sugar, one cup, twice a day. At the time we got married, my wife was not a tea drinker, so during the early days of our marriage I would drink tea and she would have biscuits, to keep me company. I thought the biscuits were a good idea and so I started having tea-dipped biscuits with my tea. We came to know one another over those cups of tea.
When our first child was born a few years later, we found it impossible to sit quietly together for even a few minutes, except for the time when we had tea in the morning. With the new responsibilities of head and heart that came with the little bundle of life, my wife found it energizing to sip the hot liquid. We both started having tea and tea-dipped biscuits. After thirty years of raising children, of learning about life and about each other, of many joys and difficulties, our little ones flew the coop and we became the two of us again. We spent happy and busy years together, visiting our children and generally bustling around. My wife developed an allergy for milk and both of us changed to tea with no milk.
Then one day, she was in the hospital, with pneumonia. It was serious and suddenly our ship became rudderless, adrift. She fought hard and pulled through. Before leaving home in the morning for the hospital everyday, I would make tea for one person and drink it alone. I could not remember the last time I had done that. When she came home, it was with a long list of food instructions, one of them being no sugar. We began a new routine for our tea – with sugar for me, without, for her. In spite of all the medicines, she got sicker. She could no longer come to the dining table to have tea, so I would take our tray up to the bedroom, until the day came when she no longer wanted to have it at all. I would make hers, take it to her, wanting her to have it, and take it away untouched and cold, an hour or so later, till the day she left home for the hospital and never returned.
These days I have tea with our only grandchild, all of 18 months old. He wakes up early and we begin our day together. When the kettle sings he looks at me with a smile that leaves me speechless with wonder and joy. He helps me spoon out the leaves and watchfully keeps a safe distance in my arms as I pour out the hot water. He sits on the table while I sit on my chair and we both stir the sugar in. And yes, he loves the biscuits. My tea time is much longer now. We eat biscuits, he plays with his spoons and an empty cup and teapot, and I sip my tea. We learn how to rattle spoons together and laugh at the big noise. We learn how to measure out tea and sugar with a spoon without spilling. We watch the school bus and wave to the children, we watch the dogs out for morning walks, we watch the sun peek through the trees and all the while we talk about what fun all of it is. His grandmother watches and smiles from the picture behind. Tea time togetherness has come back, morphed, and yet, priceless.
In spite of all the years that flow into it, life distills its essence into but a few moments, of immeasurable joys and vast sorrows, and unrelenting in their unexpectedness. I brew those moments every day, in my cup of tea.