Tea and the Enjoyment of Useless Things

It was just one of those days.

My boys were yelling at each other and fighting over which of them had picked up the toy first. The baby was refusing to nap. It was miserably cold and bleak outside. Our family of five had been living in my parents’ small guesthouse for seven months while our own home was being renovated. We were on top of each other and short-tempered. True, we were safe and warm and fed, but my gratitude-and-perspective switch just wouldn’t flip. Sweet, sweet silence. Dear Lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. And I was contemplating escape. Anywhere. It didn’t matter. Just. Get. Me. Out.

But oddly enough, I really do love these beautiful savages I call my children. So I stayed put.

And as many a wise woman has done in the centuries before, I made tea.

Not just some old Lipton tea bag in a used-up souvenir mug.

We pulled out all the stops and had a proper tea.

We laid out the beautiful blue brocade tablecloth. We lit a candle. We put Celtic harp music on Pandora and got out my great-grandmother’s milk-glass teacups and saucers. Then my boys and I sat down to our tea.

I poured the tea from the teapot into the individual cups. Then the boys took turns carefully pouring the milk from the small glass pitcher into their cups. Even the two-year-old pours his own milk at teatime and gets his own saucer. Because when they’re entrusted with beautiful, fragile things, I find that even rowdy little dirty-faced boys rise to the occasion. (Though to be honest, I do draw the line at my rosebud bone china teacups. I have my limits of faith. . . .)

And peace descended.

As much as I believe in the mystical power of tea, I think there was something even larger at work here.

Beauty for beauty’s sake, without regard to utility or practicality, is good for the soul.

There isn’t much room in our Industrialized Western mindset for this conception of beauty.

We often attach value to things based on their usefulness. If it can earn us money, accomplish a task, or otherwise move us along our desired life path, then it is valuable. Otherwise, we tend to think it is frivolous.

This utilitarian value system convinces us to accept ugly churches, repetitive music, microwave dinners, and cheaply made clothes. It’s the reason almost no one reads poetry anymore.

It is also, I believe, one of the main reasons small children are not respected as valuable members of our society – for the first few years of their life, children definitely don’t earn us money or help us “accomplish” much of anything. Quite the opposite, usually.

But something can be valuable because of the beauty and goodness of its simply being.

In our world, teatime becomes a defiant and redemptive activity. To make tea and take the time to savor it and wrap the experience in sensory beauty is to proclaim that order, beauty, and stillness are valuable and good. They are not useful in any materialistic, capitalistic sense. But they nurture our souls, and every soul desperately needs to be tended and nourished.

So wrap your life in a bit of “pointless” beauty today. I dare you. And see if it doesn’t restore your soul, even just a bit.


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