Lately I have been thinking a lot about who and what is in my cup.
Every day when I wake up, I decide what will be in my imaginary "cup" for the day. As I go through each day, I try to stay aware of the people I spend time with, the conversations
I have and what I say, the things I spend my time doing and the places I go. As I go through my day I try my best to remember that I am in charge of my influences and to listen to my "gut" when I am unsureabout any of these things. When I first created the Cup of Karma Project it was more difficult to have this perspective, but now I find that looking at my life this way has become second nature to me.I can see this philosophy changing my life and those around me and it completely affects who I spend time with and what I spend my time doing.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about how pets affect our lives. My dog Magnolia died this
past Friday and she was such a big source of inspiration for me. I have put her in my cup every day for the past 7 years and even though she left us way too early, I am so grateful that I was able to be with her every day. She was unconditional in every way- as most dogs are. She loved without asking for anything in return, She was pure and loving and always up for an adventure. Being with Maggie was a gift that made me a better person just being around her. I have several people in my life who make me feel this same way, and I am so grateful to know them.
People, pets, places and things that make us feel inspired to be the best we can be are what we
want in our cup each day. May you find yourself surrounded by the people and experiences that align with the best version of you there is, and may you know when this is not the case and have the courage to move toward a more clear vision of who you want to be.
I love you Maggie and will miss you, but I am forever grateful to you for reminding me what it feels like to love and be loved unconditionally.
Thank you for being in my cup and in my life.
Susan B. and her four daughters live in the old town cemetery down the street from me. Usually I glance over at them as I drive by on my way to work or point them out to friends and wave, but each year my dog Magnolia and I always take time to make a celebratory visit on Mother's Day. This year we carried a bouquet of blush pink antique tulips to the time worn graveyard to see our friends. As we approached we quietly opened the white picket gate, walking gingerly through the crumbling headstones that lay silent and lonely, rarely seeing visitors anymore.
We have visited so often that upon entering, my dog heads to the right hand corner of the property where Susan B.'s head stone sits silently and lovingly behind her four daughters- Sophronia, Lucretia, Susan Ellen and Amanda. As we silently walk over I imagine Susan B. (age 47) a beautiful woman with long auburn curls, sitting behind and admiring her stunning daughters, all wearing their best Victorian dresses, sipping tea out of pink china teacups.
I see Susan proudly listening to her daughters as they sit side by side in front of their mother, the older ones Sophronia and Lucretia (both 23) sitting close together reading from a book. The girls take turns reading, laughing and chattering as the younger two Susan Ellen (age 7 years 10 months) and Amanda (age 10 years) lean in to listen. I notice the book they are reading is "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. Magnolia and I sit next to them as they invite us to come closer- including us as they read a passage then stop to laugh and whisper about boys and island secrets, reminded once again that just like in Middlemarch, on this island there is always plenty of both boys and gossip to go around. I watch as they discuss which of them is most like Celia or like Dorothea- and their laughter spills up through the shade of the scrubby oak trees, surrounding us with the magic and joy that sisters create when spending time together with their beloved mother, just passing an afternoon together sitting under the shade of a tree.
The year is 1868, and it will still be a few more years before Woodrow Wilson proclaims May 9th as Mother's Day, when he will urge all Americans to give a "public thank you to all mothers for all the work they do raising children". But I don't think Susan B. needs a public declaration to remind her how special it is to be a mother, she knows instinctively that this Mother's Day is one she will never forget, because after missing her 4 girls so much, she is finally able to sit by them, hold them, read with them, sing with them and love them like she used to.
Although I like to imagine Susan and her girls in the cemetery, it of course has been many years since they lived on this island, in this neighborhood. I first noticed their graves many years ago, wandering through looking at the names I was astonished to see that Susan outlived all four of her daughters, who all died within years of each other. I was so touched by their head stones and the arduous journey Susan must have undergone watching each of her four daughters die, I decided to go to my local Town Hall and see if I could find out more. I did in fact find the girl's names in our town records (last name Brown) neatly written in the records books with dates of birth, death and cause of death. Lung fever, typhoid fever, consumption and yellow fever.
I often think of Susan Brown and her beautiful daughters, and what it must have been like to live with death for so many years. By my estimation she had about 6 years with all of her girls healthy and happy before her first daughter died. I often think about what it must have been like to not only have a child die but then to watch each one die with years in between. She must have been worried every minute of every day, wondering if she would lose another, and how she could possibly stop it from happening. I wonder if Susan had the love and support she needed from neighbors and friends- and I notice her husband went on to marry another soon after Susan herself died just two years after her fourth daughter died. Next to Susan's name the cause of death was listed as "Consumption" but I think they got it wrong- no doubt she died of a broken heart.
As the afternoon begins to fade and the shade grows chilly, Susan Brown lets us know that soon it will be time to prepare for evening chores and soon after, bed time. It has been 14 years since Susan Ellen died, then Amanda, then Sophronia and lastly Lucretia. They have been waiting for their mom here for the last two years after Lucretia died, hoping she would soon come join them. Now that the funeral procession has come and gone, they can once again be together and finally thank their loving mother for all she did to soothe their fevers, tend their wounds and help them each the best she could.
Susan's eyes fill with tears as she begins to tell me of the six wonderful years she had with her daughters before Amanda died, before it all changed. Slowly she watched each one breathe their last breath and she tells me the pain was unbearable. She has waited tirelessly for this very day, and now they can be a family again.
I place a flower on each of the girl's graves, then the remainder of the bunch in front of their beautiful mother. The sun has now disappeared and the cemetery is once again silent. I sit and thank each of them for reminding me when I drive by or stop in to say hello how important it is to take time to love and appreciate the people we call our family and friends.
Even if it's in my own mind, spending time with this incredible woman and her four daughters that lived down the street so long ago, I always leave stronger and more adamant about the importance of loving the incredible people in our lives who we are blessed to walk the path of life with at this time in history.
I only wish I could ask Susan B. to speak at one of my Cup of Karma Tea Talks. I am certain that she would eagerly rise to the occasion and would most definitely choose to speak of her four precious daughters, recounting the lessons she learned from loving them as she helped them reach their final breaths. With her sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks and auburn curls I can imagine her at the microphone, animated at the very thought of her girls. She would tell of the hard times only a mother can endure, she would speak of the love she felt for her family and their life together and the difficulites they faced.
I am confident Susan would end her story by reminding us that although their times were tough, what she remembers most of the glorious life they had together is the spring day that the girls brought home the shoe box with the rescued robin with the broken wing in it, or how proud she was when Sophie won the spelling bee or the smell of their foreheads as she kissed them good night, the laughter she heard among them while she was setting out dinner or even the sleepless nights she sat by their bed sides, praying for one more day.
She would go on to say that yes, there will be many hard times on your journey together with those you care for, but you have the gift of right now. You have time now to savor each moment on this earth together, honoring and celebrating the sacred souls you are lucky enough to love. Life is short, Susan would say- but not if you live each day holding close and appreciating those you love until one day it's time to say goodbye.
This morning I woke up frozen. Not literally frozen, although it is pretty frosty here on Martha's Vineyard this week- but frozen with panic about the impending storm threatening to attack the east coast. Immediately the phone next to my bed (the one I resolved in the new year not to keep by my bed) began offering alerts and forecasts and what "might' happen if this storm hit as hard as forecasted. The reports were overwhelmingly varied.. .1-3 inches perhaps, 1 foot maybe, possibly only icy rain.. I was instantly inundated with the usual frantic media storm that seems to pervade our every waking hour these days if we let it - I certainly seem to be making a habit of letting it (along with all my other worries and crazy insecurities) get the best of me lately.
Feeling overwhelmed by potential forecasts and frostbite, I sat up and reminded myself that just like life, noone really knows what is going to happen in the future. I turned off my phone and buried it in a pile of laundry, called to my dog Magnolia to come join me and slowly we made our way downstairs to the tea pot. I grabbed a strong, earthy pu-erh tea, spooned a teaspoon of leaves into my glass mug and while the water began to heat I let Magnolia out into the bitter morning cold.
Next (as I do every morning) I went in to check on my 87 year old dad in his bedroom next to the kitchen before making his breakfast. Lately he has been reminding me of the grandparents in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" who live in their bed (all four of them) under layers of covers and quilts. My dad was bundled up under blankets up to his chin, with his face peeking out. "morning dad" I said quietly, " breakfast will be ready soon" waiting a little bit for him to respond..."ok sweetin'" he calls to me and begins to stir.
Back in the kitchen the water is now boiling and I take it from the heat and let it sit a minute before pouring. Pu-erh can be a little sensitive so I wait until it feels right and pour the water over the brownish red leaves into cup and strainer. I watch as the leaves infuse a dark, rich and steaming cup of beautiful tea and as always I am amazed by it's beauty, aroma and taste.
As my tea steeps, my mind wanders. I start thinking of the Tea Talk coming this weekend. I have been on a mission with my Cup of Karma project lately- I am hosting monthly tea parties where story tellers come and tell of one person who has changed their life. In different venues around the island, I am recording and collecting these stories because i really believe it matters, and that people (me included) need to look away from the over stimulating world we live in and remember to look around their own lives to the people we love and learn from.
Only two days away the event is now set- flower crowns have been ordered (see photos) venue confirmed, story tellers prepared, ads in the newspapers, scones and cupcakes ready to be baked.
As I strain my tea leaves, let the dog in, begin to boil the egg, toast the english muffin and pour
the juice for my dad's breakfast I start in with the worry again- what about all that preparation?
What if it's a horrible storm and noone is able to come out to hear these amazing stories that will
come from the four incredible women scheduled to speak?
I hop in the shower and get dressed for work, all the while consumed with the question "to cancel or not to cancel?" On my way out I grab my now lukewarm tea off the kitchen counter and give my dad and my dog a hug goodbye, both busy eating their breakfast. Once at work I ask my friends at work if
I should or shouldn't and then I text my best friend Molly-yearning for someone to tell me what to do. Molly tells me she may be more likely to be able to come next week so that would be good- even one of my co workers sits down and really helps me weight pros and cons and I am humbled by his willingness to help. By 10 am I am yet again, completely overwhelmed with what might happen.
Sitting at my desk I look down at my cold yet beautiful cup of tea and I realize that I missed drinking this tea while I was preoccupied with all this other ridiculousness- the worry, the projecting, the angst.
Yet somehow the tea also reminds me instantly as it always seems to do, that everything in front of me this morning is my lesson. My life, my job, my family, my project. At 51 I am just learning to sit and focus on what feels right to me, to listen to myself. No forecast or coworker can tell me what will happen or what I should do next. I guess that's why I love listening to the stories at my Tea Talks, and why I want so desperately to share them with others. The stories remind us that we dont' have it all figured out, buttoned up and perfect and that's ok. That's not what this life is about. The stories and my tea remind me again and again to refocus on the important stuff, because in the end we have each other and we are all going through the same trials and tribulations, none of us are immune.
As I stare into the cup at the dark amber tea leaves, in a flash I decide to postpone the event until next week, when the promise of better weather is more likely and the craziness of the forecasts have subsided. I make the calls and cancel, move and shift it all to next Saturday, January 30th at 3:00pm in the church next to my house. Everyone is flexible, the plans change easily and it's done.
Getting ready for bed tonight I will put my phone in another room, and will work on being mindful
of this day. Tomorrow I will wake up and make my tea again and maybe I will drink it hot and maybe it will be cold. I will look around my life and try my best to honor the people that I love and learn from- and together we will remind each other that with all our flaws and mistakes, we share a common bond of being human and none of us are even remotely close to being perfect.
I have no idea what the weather will be like next week, but if I had to conjure up a forecast I would say I'm pretty certain of the outcome; time will pass and all the amazing souls that are meant to come together will gather on the 30th to share and to celebrate the path we are all on. We will listen, tell stories and collectively remind each other that just like my pu-erh tea this morning we are strong, grounded and hot or cold we hold up pretty well in the face of any storm that may or may not come our way.