It was my Aunt's memorial service.
It was a small and casual affair, held in the community room of a college student residence, near where my oldest sister lived, and on the campus of the Community College where she worked as a
librarian (forgive me, a "librarian technician" I think) her entire professional life. I often joke that she was my Google before Google.
In fact she was our entire family's Google before Google, as well as often fulfilling the role of
our family organizer and documenter and manager, which I imagine was a bit like herding cats, but something in which she held unquestionable expertise and at least a little bit of enjoyment and satisfaction in doing. She eventually fulfilled the role of my
Mom's primary long term caregiver, for which all of her siblings, including me, can NEVER be grateful enough, nor ever come close to truly understanding or repaying.
My aunt's ashes were in a small urn, placed at the head of the room next
to an arrangement of flowers. I can't remember what type of flowers they were, but I'm wondering now if there were any irises in honour of her name. As I say her name Iris in my mind, it seems like an odd name to me in this moment. I never had any sense of
that before. My whole life, she was just matter-of-factly, my Aunt Iris.
Our whole family was present at the service, but we were probably a relatively small group compared to most. With my Mom and Aunt being sisters, married to my Dad
and Uncle who were brothers, we all only had one aunt and uncle. But for all of us, it seemed plenty big enough. With 6 kids in one family and 4 in the other, and even living next door to each other for a while, there was never any sense of being a "small"
At the back of the room was a table set up with coffee, tea, and some sandwiches and desserts. With our heritage of English warbrides being brought to Canada after World War II, many in our family were serious tea drinkers.
It's my guess that my often cheeky and loving-to-tease father was the one who come up with the idea of a "tea-making apprenticeship". This was where the youngest kid, by lowest seniority, was relegated to the daily task of tea-maker, under
the guise of needing a great deal of practice to achieve the esteemed journeyman tea-maker title. No one ever gained journeyman status, since they could simply and gleefully pass on the apprenticeship to the next kid who became old enough.
As the youngest of the six kids, the apprenticeship eventually fell into my lap, and with no one behind me, the apprenticeship never left. I'm 58 years old now, and am still an apprentice tea-maker. This situation has been a source of my family's ongoing
amusement and joyful teasing for years. The silent signal of anyone's hand held up with all the fingers turned in, except for the pointer finger still out but slightly curved into the shape of a hook, ready for the handle of a tea cup, is just one of several
prompts for the apprentice to put the kettle on.
On this day, in honour of that, a delicate set of flowered bone china tea cups and saucers were put out for our use. As the service was about to start, I poured myself a cup of tea with
milk, and then sat down next to my brother Gary. I took a deeply satisfying sip, and then placed the cup and saucer on the empty folding chair in between us. I remember thinking how good it tasted and felt. There's something almost spiritual to be found in
a really good cup of tea.
At the end of the service, I went to finish my cup of tea and it was unexpectedly empty. I hadn't remembered finishing it off during the service, and my parched mouth and longing tastebuds were immediately disappointed.
As I looked up in a bit of confusion trying to trace the memory of my actions, I caught a glance of my brother's amused expression, and I immediately realized what had happened. He then looked at me calmly and squarely, and with complete conviction, proclaimed,
"That was the best cup of tea I ever had!". And I could tell he sincerely meant it.
I burst out in laughter. Leave it to my brother Gary, at the solemn occasion of the remembrance of our aunt's passing, to cheekily steal my cup of tea,
and then to sit quietly and patiently, in delicious anticipation throughout the entire service, waiting for the moment of my inevitable confusion.
My brother left this world much too early for all of us who loved him, in a tragic accident
a few years after my Aunt's service. Little did I know that this treasured memory of mine would hold even more significance, just a few years after his own passing, as a sort of cheeky wink and nod from the universe, where time, space, and matter are not quite
what most of us think they are.
Who knew that I would come across a man, whom I would never actually meet, but whose existence and influence within this chaotic "dominoes-of-circumstance" life, would fundamentally change my own understanding
of life forever.
The man was named Sydney Banks, and the many who knew and loved him will often share stories of his deep and fundamental understanding and appreciation for the PRESENT... MOMENT. This included their frequent observance
of every cup of tea being genuinely experienced by Syd as, "the best cup of tea I ever had".
I think a lot about the present moment, or "presence", these days.
It is especially brought to light in the sort of "waiting-for-the-world-to-start-spinning-again"
experience that many human beings on this planet are now in the middle of.
Many are being forced to just STOP!, and once past the initial deafening and discomforting quiet, may be starting to reconnect or reacquaint themselves with a "presence"
that has been long lost or forgotten in the insecure striving and busyness of their lives.
Many are being led onto the front lines to courageously fight an invisible foe, continually being brought back to an extreme act of "presence" in
order to maintain the safety of themselves, and the care and safety of those they are charged to serve.
And everyone, no matter their experience, are being given the opportunity to revaluate their lives, their priorities, their understandings,
their beliefs, and their participation in this thing called society, or perhaps even more fundamentally, their unique place on this planet Earth, being intrinsically woven within the infinite and intricate web of life itself. We're all beginning to see how
one pull of any thread, and the whole web vibrates.
In a way, we're all being called to ask ourselves what kind of a world we really want to live in, and what kind of presence is going to be required for us to live in it.
I don't expect that any of us can possibly fathom the full profundity of that question, but the truth is that we don't really have to.
The unconditionally loving care of life itself comes simply in each sacred moment. So that any time
our mind happens to remind us of the unique and precious gift of life, we can take a moment to savour it.
And whether life presents us with a day of painfully hard work or a day of complete rest, or a tragic loss or moment of laughter,
or a feeling of dire hopelessness or sense of accomplishment... that whatever may be in front of us in all the infinite abundance of experience that this life offers, that we somehow become present to the love in ALL of it, just like the care and appreciation
of a single, simple, ordinary cup of tea.
If we somehow keep leaning toward that, the universe will take care of the rest.