“May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.”
-Ursula Le Guin, Always Coming Home
This morning I skipped breakfast–I told myself I was in a hurry–went to a meeting, taught a class, and sat at my desk to make some ramen. Just as I started the noodles a student came by: a thoughtful, playful young man who wanted to talk about communicating and scuba diving. He mentioned an old teacher who used to make tea, and I thought, aha!, I used to make students tea. Why did I stop? I got some more water, and invited him to sit down.
In my life, at least, tea is largely a reminder to sit quietly for a little while, to watch the interplay of leaves and water, to taste the subtle changes. I had a good tea drinking habit going for almost a year, and then, in all the hurly burly, I started thinking I didn’t have time. Perhaps the truth is I didn’t have time not to make a cup of tea, because in the months I hurly-burlied straight through the morning, the hurly-burly got to me. (That’s dangerous. Remember Macbeth?). But someone asking me to talk about something that matters–well, I’m foolish, but that’s one way to pull me right out of my foolishness. So, for the first time in a long time, I made some tea.
It was nice, and then I found myself in the curious position of having a bowl of chicken ramen next to a teacup of excellent jasmine green tea. I had a bite of one, a sip of the other. And then my student and I realized we had to talk about this strange combination. It was, I think, symbolic of my life, and my culture, and my failings, and maybe of other things that are perhaps yours as well as mine.
Ramen gets its punch by being very. Very salty, very easy, very cheap, very everything it is. Jasmine green tea, on the other hand, is all about shades fading into one another. The clear of the water slipping toward the soft glow of the tea. Ramen is so very that it reaches out and grabs my attention, even when I think I’m in a hurry. There’s always time for ramen. But when I sit, for a moment, with a friend, tea reminds me that there is enough world and enough time to sit with the quiet, steady growth of a leaf in water.
Maybe I’ve been holding too many of the words I know, instead of tasting the shape of strange ones. Maybe I’ve been eating too often, instead of smelling the food I’m helping to cook. I want to eat less ramen, and drink more tea.