Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Vulnerable Lessons of Porcelain

I have a wonderful little book, in my book case entitled If Teacups Could Talk by Emily Barnes.
Always on the lookout for a good story to read for the "phone news" I was delighted when I came across this poignant tale. Perfect! I thought, & entirely fitting in light of our own recent Christchurch earthquake & subsequently that which caused so much carnage in Japan, only weeks later. And of course, just right for useful reflections in the lead up to Easter.
Fill me with courage and comfort. The vulnerable lessons of porcelain. 
Let me begin...
"Collecting teacups in Southern California is really an act of faith. As I write, the memory is still fresh of a major earthquake not far from here where I live. Our home was safely south of the epicentre, and my tea things were safe, but friends & acquaintances have shown me heart-stopping photographs of knee-deep rubble. Days of shaking & aftershocks left all their breakable treasures in shards & shatters.
It wouldn't take much of an earthquake to send all my teacups & teapots crashing to the floor.
Actually it wouldn't take an earthquake at all, for all my fragile teacups are also vulnerable to more mundane dangers-the cat, the feather duster, my grandchildren, my own carelessness.
pictures my china
It's happened before. When children come to tea at my house & go to choose their teacups from my collection, I always have to confess that once I broke fourteen of my own prized teacups! A glass shelf was balanced precariously after cleaning, & it collapsed at my accidental nudge. More than a dozen of my favourite cups fell to smithereens. I was so devastated I couldn't face what had happened. I simply swept the china splinters into a box & put it on the shelf, & six years passed before I could muster the courage to look inside the box. Only one cup was in large enough pieces even to be salvaged with glue & it'll never be the same.
All this is to say I take a significant risk in keeping my teacups out. I take a risk in using them, in letting others use them. But it's a risk I choose to take. I choose it with my eyes open, & I choose it with all gladness.
After all life is fragile too.
We take a risk just walking out of the door in the morning. We take a risk if we never cross the threshold. But if we let that risk stop us from living, we've already lost! While protecting ourselves from injury & loss, we're also cutting ourselves off from joy & growth. And we're not really protecting ourselves at all, since we can never be immune from the inherent dangers of being human & mortal.
I don't want to be foolish. I certainly try to be careful when handling delicate china. I am looking into ways to secure my cabinets to minimize earthquake damage. But at the same time, a full & worthwhile life will always call for a certain risk & a certain courage. And my teacups in all their vulnerability remind me of that. There is always a limit to the precautions one can take, & a certain amount of breakage is inevitable. But life in all it's vulnerable beauty is incomparably worth it.
(The cherry blossom is so dear to the heart of the tells stories of the beauty, fragility & fleetingness of life.)
 It is this realization that has taught me to take risks with my teacups, to avoid the temptation to fall back on the "safe" mugs or even paper cups.
I've even learned to take those teacups traveling- outdoors on our grounds, on a picnic,
 or even in a basket to visit a friend. Once I move past the safety mentality, I can use my beautiful tea things as they were intended- to share joy & friendship & caring, truly a "cup of kindness."
(I just found this little set quite recently at the Salys..The White Cliffs of Dover
..I love it! And the name of Emily's friend :)
Emily goes on to describe how her friend Evelyn Heavilin told her this wonderful tea-party story:

"My friend Diana had been through a very rough year. Her husband had had a stroke at 47 which had forced him in to retirement. Diana was caring for him as well as working full time at an outside job. She loved to attend the outdoor concerts in the summertime at the Redlands Bowl. We arranged for a night when we could have someone else stay with her husband. We told her we would go early & save seats so that she could come as late as she needed to. When she arrived, I opened my picnic basket & we had a tea party. Diana is from England & loves tea & tea time. I had hot water in a thermos, & I served it in my most delicate china cups. I had bought yummy desserts from a deli....& served them on china plates. I used my best silverware & linen napkins. I also gave Diana a beautiful picture book about English tea time. We had a crowd watching us & drooling!....The setting was perfect, the music was inspiring, the sky was filled with stars, & my friend Diana felt loved & pampered. She will never forget that night, nor will I."
....There's another lesson I have learned from tea cups, but I learned it while watching a programme on archeology. You see ceramic objects may be breakable, but they are amazingly resilient to weathering & corrosion & age. Much of what we know about ancient civilizations we have learnt from bits of pottery they left behind. China dishes recovered from shipwrecks are often good as new, long after the ship itself has dissolved in to the saltwater.
Porcelain is fragile, in other words but it's also remarkably durable- like us.
 Like life!
Humans are beautiful & breakable like china teacups...yet we are also strong & resilient. And unlike my cups, humans can heal & grow & move beyond disaster. We can reach out to one another in courage & comfort. So what will I do when another earthquake comes?
I guess I'll do what anyone must do when disaster strikes:
I'll pick up the pieces.
I'll try to help someone & accept help when I need it.
And then somehow I'll have another cup of tea.
For hundreds of years
 "Come for tea" has been another way of saying
 "Come, let's share a little bit of our lives together."
 Quietly & without threat, this inviting phrase
 calls us out of ourselves & into special
 relationships with others" (back cover).
Pure Joy Photography
If you would like to read more of a Pause in Lent do pop in to see Floss here.
If you'd like to join in with Betty's Thrifty Week at Mrs Yappy Dog click here. 
What a lovely idea to share thoughts & ideas about Making do & Mending..looking forward to this event beginning the week of the 18th.
If you'd like to catch up with a couple of young chaps having fun being thrifty & loving laundry click right here....Oh, for the love of laundry!
If you'd like to join in with Her Library Adventures Flea Market finds call in here.


  1. Hi Catherine, what a lovely post..I love the message. My china is precious too, but we still use it as everyday pieces, and if one piece is damaged, we still had a thousand days of pleasure from it.

    Ohh, and tell Rob that I would buy the wooden clothes horse/drier too, I love them.

    Hope you are both well, Tam x

  2. This ia a marvelous post, Catherine - so much to reflect on! When I get home I need to get out my quotations book and write some of it down! Thanks very much.

  3. oh what a delightful post!! now i know why i love my china cup collection as much as you do yours! i especially love carlton ware and i'm drooling over your yummy pieces mmmmmmmmm!!!!!

  4. What a thoughtful and inspiring post, Catherine! I'm up in the middle of the night and the wind is howling outside. I think I need a cup of tea. Bless you, wise woman.

  5. A glorious post, and the pictures were a feast for the eyes!
    Thank you!
    Jane x

  6. Oh Catherine....ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL post that bought tears to my eyes....Yes yes YES YES Y-E-S...."Come, let's share a little bit of our lives together"....I DO SO WISH you were closer my Friend so WE TOO could take advantage of this time honoured tradition....I would love to sit in a park with you surrounded by your DIVINE tea Treasures & chat....!!!!!

    THANK YOU for your recent comment....Seeing your SWEET note made me SMILE OUT LOUD....I'm GLAD you liked my Magnolia Pearl pics....Robin is INDEED a talented woman & I ADORE her work....!!

    Have a BRILLIANT week my Friend & TAKE CARE....!

    Cheers from across the way,
    Tamarah :o)

  7. What a marvellous post, with so many things to take from it. To live life as an adventure, to use things as they were created to be used, to treat each other well, to share our lives over a simple cup of tea...and so much more.
    Thank you.

  8. Hello :)
    I send you an email, I hope you get it. :) You've beatiful collection. I have to take a picture of my cup. In Poland we've amazing manufactures in Walbrzych and Chodziez. In my family home I've some old cup and plates which I inherited from my grandparents.

  9. Very beautiful tea cup collection Catherine.

  10. What a lovely post. And such sweet family memories for me. I've loved Emilie Barnes' books since my children were very young. Now they're grown with children of their own and I'm looking forward to sharing her writing treasures with the next generation. Thank you for this delightful Pause in Lent. :)

  11. Catherine this really was a wonderful post to read and I know I would love to come to tea with you. Certainly sums up a lot and gives us a message - it is important to use these beautiful things that can make us and others feel so special.

    Oh and less of the 'old' ;-) I know the grey hairs are showing, but I'm trying my best to ignore them!


So lovely of you to leave a comment. Thank you!! ♥

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