I was sitting down to my tea the other day (a revered ritual) when the doorbell rang. I went to answer it and found my frazzled neighbour at the door. She had a couple of hours without her daughters, and was spending it doing her home owner’s association work. (See why I shun the home owner’s association? I confess; it scares me.) I invited her in for a cup of tea, and she gratefully accepted. We walked downstairs to my kitchen and she sank thankfully into a chair as I went to get another cup and saucer. When I returned, she was looking thoughtfully at my table. I asked her politely if she liked the tea I was having (Assam) or if she would prefer something else from my vast tea stores. She said she would love a cup of Assam tea, and so, I poured.
When I settle down to my teatime ritual, the world slows down. It becomes measured and civilised. I relax into my ritual without even thinking about it, little knowing or caring how it must appear to someone else. For a while L said nothing, and nor did I. Then I asked her how her day was going.
She snapped out of her reverie (or so it appeared) and complimented me on my china. I was surprised, but I thanked her politely. Then she mildly inquired if I’d been expecting her.
I shook my head. No, I hadn’t been expecting her. Now it was her turn to look surprised.
I asked her if something was the matter. She responded by asking me if I treated myself to this (she waved her hand at my table) everyday. I didn’t think there was something amazing about a pot of tea and a Victoria Sponge, and I told her so. She looked pained. It wasn’t the tea and cake she was referring to, she told me, but the china, the cutlery, and even the tablecloth.
This revelation, in turn, pained me.
I have heard this all before. Why, people ask me, do I treat myself to the good china everyday? Why do I insist on drinking my tea out of a cup? Won’t a mug do? Why don’t I preserve the good china? Why do I insist on using the silver cutlery? Aren’t I afraid that something will be broken, or the crystal cut glass will be chipped, or the silver will lose its veneer? Isn’t it terrifying to me that something may spill on my lovely vintage tablecloth that was embroidered by hand by my grandmother before she got married? Do I not fear all of these things?
The simple answer is: No. I don’t.
I believe we own nice things in order to use them. It seems a massive waste to me that the beautiful good china, or the vintage tablecloth, or the family silver rots in drawers and cupboards and closets. It’s something that frustrates me endlessly. When my grandfather died I helped clean out his closets. I felt such intense sadness when I found some new shirts he’d never worn, a brand new silk dhoti that was still in its protective tissue wrapping, and even a box of new handkerchiefs that he’d never opened. He never got to use any of it, and he died. Why did he save it? He spent money on those things — or was given them — and he never knew what it felt like to use them. That, to me, is a bigger tragedy than the risk of a cup breaking or a spill spoiling my precious tablecloth.
I don’t love my special things less because I use them everyday. I look at it differently. I believe I deserve to use the beautiful things I own. I don’t want to preserve them. I believe that the act of my using them makes them, if at all possible, even more special.