Coping With COVID: A Lifetime of Stories in Teacups and Coffee Mugs

Mad Hatter: What’s the matter my dear, don’t you care for tea?

Alice: Why, yes. I’m very fond of tea.

March Hare: If you don’t care for tea, you could at least make polite conversation! —Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

cup and saucer I found a few years ago at the Adelphi Hotel estate sale, Saratoga Springs, NY

A few weeks ago, as I was texting back and forth with a dear friend immersed in a big and ambitious relocation with her entire family, sending her well wishes and as much encouragement as I could muster from afar, she sent me back a photo of her essential tea setup, a tidy little basket that held beautiful little ceramic vessels filled with tea, and other tea-making essentials I presume. We’d been talking about living lean, the kind of lean one must live in the middle of a gigantic move. I sent her back a photo of a porcelain teabag caddy gifted to me years ago by one of my ballet students down in Knoxville.

I went on to explain all about the ping thread I set up for my creative colleagues on the communication platform we use at work when the new reality of COVID descended upon us, scattering many of my coworkers to the remote Vermont mountain communities they call home. I did this not only because I wanted to establish open lines of communication to make sure we were dotting I’s and crossing T’s where our client work was concerned, but also because I was frankly worried about many of them and their young families, and how they’d cope—not only with full-time remote work, but with juggling homeschooling on top of their work obligations, especially the parents unaccustomed to it.

I love this cup my artist friend Bett made and sent to me in Vermont

It’s a scenario I don’t need to explain, because daily the news does that for us, as if we needed reminding. Reach out to me here, I told them, if you feel like you’ll miss a deadline—let me help you meet it. Post photos of your cat. Share that hysterical thing your third-grader just said. That kind of thing. I was also simply trying to help them maintain their sanity, however minimally this would be possible at the other end of an internet connection.

Anyway, I said in the text thread to my friend, a few weeks ago one of my colleagues suggested tea every day at 2:00—we all agreed this was a grand idea and embraced it immediately. That’s a time in the afternoon when work fatigue is wont to set in, a perfect time for everybody to take their head out of whatever they’re buried in, for just a moment or two, and raise a toast to each other with a cup of tea. We can’t see each other on this particular platform, but we can share what type of tea we decided on, post a photo of the mug if it’s noteworthy, and just enjoy a moment of camaraderie.

Chef David’s brother lives in the Adirondacks and often sends a commemorative mug at Christmastime—we have an impressive collection of them

And then my text continued, Funny, I’ve gotten to know these folks (my coworkers) so much better through these ping threads than I knew them when we were all in the office together physically.

Yes, she observed. Another reveal of the coronavirus.

a gift to us last Christmas from my ex-sister-in-law-but-still-my-sister, one among a pile of goat-themed gifts she sent us after I let on it would be fun to keep company with goats

The other thing to emerge from this new afternoon ritual, though, were the stories we began to recall (and tell) attached to every teacup or mug, where it came from, what was going on in that chapter of our lives, or, if it was a collectible, the challenge of finding another one like it, and on and on. One colleague told a story about how her children always come unglued when somebody breaks a mug at her house, which she says happens only about once or twice a year, but still causes trauma. So much importance ascribed to a single mug! Smash it up more, I urged her, and then make mosaic stepping stones for your garden. Great idea! she lobbed back at me in the thread.

mug and mouse pad, remnants of the erstwhile Knoxville Ballet School, swan logo designed by my friend Bett

I detest this pandemic and the rancorous and divided tenor of our country at this moment. I’m sick of the language it has inspired (difficult, challenging times), the new catch phrases that seem to emerge each week (lately, it’s ‘pivot’—heard that one?). I want it to end, and soon, as much as the next person, but suspect when it finally does, our lives may be changed, if not forever, then maybe for a generation or more, who knows.

a gift to me from a French ballet school family, which came with Darjeeling tea leaves they found at a shop in Oxford, England

I’ve also witnessed moments of beauty and grace, even in something as ordinary as a ping thread over an office communication platform.

Or a thing as uncomplicated and restorative as sharing a cup of afternoon tea through the ether.

another of my dear friend Bett’s beautiful creations

Keep in touch with your friends and loved ones—and find beauty and grace in unexpected places.


One thought on “Coping With COVID: A Lifetime of Stories in Teacups and Coffee Mugs

  1. I love all the beautiful mugs! My father always drank his tea from a blue willowware mug. There was only one and it was all his. Woe to the child who dared drink milk from that mug!! My youngest sister has it in her possession. There is special attachment to all the odd things we have amassed. I’m pretty sure that my sons will each want the butter dish in my refrigerator… I’m so glad you have been able to find at least one positive during the pandemic – and it is a big one in getting to know your coworkers!

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