Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Using Things and Valuing People

My mother collected, (but never used) beautiful teacups and saucers.  There they sat, too high up in the kitchen cabinetry even to be admired.  Caked in accumulated kitchen grease and dust, they were taken down every so often, gently cleaned in the sink and then redeposited on freshly-scrubbed shelves for safe keeping.  For years she mourned that she didn’t own a proper set of “good dishes”, Eventually her children gifted her with Old Country Roses when she was an old woman.  Alas, those dishes met with the same fate as the china cups. Cherished but unseen, they were considered too precious to be handled and too expensive to replace if t*God forbid!) they got chipped or broken! To my knowledge, Mom never got the chance to enjoy them. 

I believe this was the state of affairs in most homes of similar social standing.  Many people didn’t own Fine China and those who did felt that it was only to be used for “special” occasions that somehow seldom or never materialised.  Barely anything justified their use, no matter how august the circumstance.  Birthdays, wedding showers, baptisms, anniversaries, graduations and deaths of loved ones all fled by, and there the China sat, safe, unbroken, unused and, now-that-I-think-of-it, USELESS.             

This is Dogwood by Royal Albert, one of my sets that I love and use often!
Is it any wonder that Fine China has become less and less desirable to own by the proceeding generations?  People have suggested that these lovely things are no longer valued. Judging from the “oohs and ahhs” that emanate from my visitors when they see the collection of china lavishly incorporated into my home decor, I wonder if something else is afoot.  The shock-bordering-on-panic that accompanies my use of fine china to serve my guests for no reason other than that we are together for tea and I value their esteemed company makes me suspect a truth far more insidious. It is not that Fine China is undervalued, but that people have under-estimated their own worth.  I wouldn't want to be surrounded by beautiful things I didn't feel worthy of using.  What would be the use or the pleasure in that? 

Tea Art by my friend Wanda Burrill-Kowalczyk.  Two classy cats having tea, much like Wanda and I!  

A perspective that values things over people is misguided at best and immoral at worst.  In my house and in my life the opposite is true.  I have opted to use things, beautiful things, delicate things, breakable things, and to value people.  People are more important than things, even gorgeous things, even things as materially valuable to me as my very, very, best Fine China! This is the truth. A broken cup can be mended, or it can be disposed of and replaced.  A broken spirit is not so easily set right, and each of us is broken in some way.  It is as simple as that.

Chelsea was a lovely and lively six-year old caught up in the excitement of playing with my dog Charlie, as her young mother and I sat chatting in my living room one rainy October afternoon.  Given one of Charlie’s many toys, Chelsea was tossing it into the dining area. Charlie was intent on running after it and bringing it back to her so that it could be thrown again.  Unnoticed by the adults present, with each toss, Chelsea, was walking backwards, getting closer and closer to a collision with my antique oak occasional table. Inevitably, the heal of her stockinged feet hit one of the legs.  She lost her balance and fell.  Landing on her hip, settling finally on her bum,  she jarred the table and knocked a topiary teacup onto the floor with a crash. 

No-doubt about it, Chelsea felt she was in major trouble. Thankfully she had not hit her head, and she was not physically hurt, although a little shocked by the experience.When she realised the teacup had been broken in the process, she felt the gravity of having broken something that did not belong to her.  She dissolved into a torrent of tears, apologizing for destroying my beautiful china bauble.  My heart went out to her.  Ignoring the broken china at this point, I helped her up off the floor. “Hmmm”, I said, as I escorted her to sit next to me on the sofa. “my beautiful cup is broken, that’s for sure.  Did you do it on purpose?”  “No!”  she cried,  “It was an accident!” “I believe you, Chelsea and I accept your apology.  I;m so glad that you weren’t hurt.  Do you think the beautiful cup was more important to me than YOU?” No answer. “Well, since I believed you that it was an accident, I want you to believe me that as much as I liked the cup, you are much more important to me. Do you believe me?” “Yes”.  “Do you know why you are more important than the cup?”  No answer.  “Because the cup is just a thing but YOU are a person.  A person is much, much more precious than a thing.   People are more important than things, always. Do you think you can remember that?” “Yes”. Her relieved response was evidenced by a huge, toothy smile. So I lost a cup but gained a friend for life.                  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Reminders From My New-to-me Tea Trolley

If you are an afternoon tea enthusiast, you have no doubt seen or may even own a tea wagon or tea trolley.   The kind of lovely thing one might inherit from a mother or grandmother, this piece of tea paraphernalia very much like fine china,  is not in vogue at the moment.  Despite its current lack of status in popular culture, a tea trolley in good condition will fetch a hefty price at antique stores. Therefore as much as I admired them I didn't actually own one and figured I never would.  I couldn't justify the purchase of something so expensive yet seemingly frivolous, but ooooh, I wanted one! However,  as my husband often says when I express an interest in owning something we can't afford, or shouldn't indulge in,  "It is GOOD to want things!"      

I came across a tea wagon by serendipity, while shopping in a second hand store with my friends June and Ruth.  Ruth, one of those fortunate souls who had inherited a tea wagon from her mom, spied it not long after we walked through the door. "Oh, look Rose!  A Tea Wagon! And it even has the original glass-bottomed tray!" I thought to myself, they would ask a pretty penny for that.  Upon closer inspection though, I noticed several flaws in the piece, some prominent water stains, and a bit of veneer lifting from a place on its top.  Hmmm!  It was encrusted in dust and grime, and wasn't in stellar condition, but some day might be restored and until then, a strategically placed tea cloth would cover a multitude of sins.  I wondered.  To my surprise, the price was staggeringly low.,an unqualified steal of a deal. But, it was still more money than I had in my purse.  I was a bit of a regular in this establishment and it was one of those places where you didn't dicker and you didn't ask them to hold things. You bought things outright, and the price was the price.  It was then my friend June noticed that an acquaintance of hers was working in the store, and as it turned out, was the manager.  They chatted amiably and she mentioned that I was interested in the tea wagon.  I reticently acknowledged that it was lovely, and the price was excellent, but that I didn't have that kind of money at my disposal at the moment.  I was surprised when she countered with "How much would you be willing to pay for it?"   While I could see my way clear to spending X-amount, which was slightly lower than the ticket price,  I would not "nickel and dime" her .  I asked what SHE would be willing to let it go for.  Her response?  What did I think of  (picture a price WELL below the asking price)? Seriously?  What a BARGAIN! This was one of those opportunities that might not happen again but alas I was still a measly twenty dollars short, and ready to walk away, wagon-less, because I just knew that I couldn't ask her to break the "no holding" rule, it wouldn't be right. Called away to handle a situation in the back room, the manger left me to come to a decision, but I walked away sadly from the tea cart.  My friends were flabbergasted!  I explained my dilemma and hoped that when I was able to get back with the proper funds the tea wagon would still be there, but something told me it wouldn't.  That is when my friend Ruth came up with a solution.  She would lend me the money, and I could pay her back when she dropped me off at home.  The deal sealed, I headed home with my prized acquisition.

In January 2012 I began treatment for a chronic condition I had suffered with for thirty four years. It involved the tight bandaging of my legs, from toes to knees for 10 to 12 hours a day.  Over the next several months the swelling in my legs diminished and the infections which continuously plagued me had all but disappeared.  It was a triumph that had taken its time in coming  and had arrived with a hefty price tag.  I had always hoped that there would be a cure one day, but instead I was handed a life sentence.  There is no panacea for what ails me, merely a method of management which is awkward, hot, bulky and unattractive.  That same week I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in my knees.  Between the bandaging and the arthritis pain, I was finding it increasingly hard to walk and impossible to manage stairs without the help of a railing.

One Sunday, four months into treatment,  I was scheduled to read scripture in my church's  morning worship service. The six small stairs (alas, with no accompanying railing) which led to the pulpit seemed like an entire flight. I was feeling apprehensive and unsteady.  It was no great surprise to me that  I stumbled on the second stair.  My chin hit the carpet with a dull thud to a thunderous gasp from the congregation.   I picked myself up, proceeded to the pulpit, and read Scripture, seemingly unfazed.  In fact though I felt embarrassed  and demoralized!

That afternoon as I tearfully bemoaed the situation to a friend, my eyes lit upon my beautiful new-to-me tea trolley. I was reminded of just how blessed my life is, regardless of the challenges.  God is so immeasurably good to me.  He provides me with everything I need and then, time and again, he treats me to something special, an unexpected extravagance.  This serendipitous bit of whimsy was just that; nothing I needed, but something I had always wanted.  I felt an urging, not exactly a voice encouraging me to open the drawer of the tea wagon, Excusing myself from  the conversation, I opened it finding what I had placed there , my collection of silver plated coffee spoons in a reseal-able plastic bag to keep them from tarnishing.  Perplexed momentarily, I distractedly scanned the left-hand vertical surface of the drawer and an insignia fairly jumped out at me.  Gibbard.   How could I not have noticed this before?  This was no ordinary tea trolley yet I had completely overlooked its pedigree.   Gibbard, established in 1835 was a noteworthy Canadian furniture manufacturer based in Napanee, Ontario which employed master craftsmen .  To own a Gibbard was to own the best of workmanship. Yes, it had seen better days, had noticeable scars and needed some restoring, but it was, none-the-less,  a valuable piece of workmanship.  A master's hands had created it, and placed the company's label upon it.   I was reminded that the battle-worn tea wagon and I had a lot in common.  

The Bible tells us that we were "fearfully and wonderfully made." by the greatest crafts person in the universe. We are of inestimable value not only because He made us, but because He has placed His own image on us. We carry the maker's mark and we are each a one-of-a-kind creation.  Life however, is not easy. and it leaves its cruel scratches on our once-pristine finish.   Ill-health had taken its toll on me and  my self confidence was battered.  It was tempting to think that I was worthless, but God reminded me through the medium of my lovely new-to-me tea trolley, that I, like the trolley will one day be restored to my former glory. Sadly and all-to-often I am insistent on moping over things that are of little eternal significance.  However, on  rare occasions  I see my bandages and osteo-arthritis being  cast off like a moth-eaten garment for the freedom and healing of heaven. Like the view of a butterfly's diaphanous wing  caught on the periphery of my vision I perceive it and it is gone, but it is none-the-less stunning and real for my fleeting awareness of it.  One day " I will be changed, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye"; I will be effortlessly restored by the touch of the Master's hand.  This world is not all there is, praise God from whom all blessings flow,  even the whimsical, inconsequential but oh-so-lovely blessing of a new-to-me tea trolley.