520 Tea Sister
It was an ugly cry, the kind you're glad no one sees. Blubbering and half a box of Puffs Plus. It started with hyperventilating and turned into shock, then horror, then full blown crying then chest grabbing heartache and pain. Change, bad change, change I don't want and didn't see coming, change no one told me about, change like walking into a plate glass wall when you're fast walking and focused. Slam. Can't go through it. You're flesh and bone, not cloud or smoke. You're made of matter, and feelings apparently, and you're feeling a lot of them right now.
He's not there. He's left. He's still around, but in a different capacity, a different shape, a different space, with a different purpose. His purpose is family, the perpetually ailing mother, housebound. The bouncing baby boy, new curious and full of light. That's where he spends his days. And no one mentioned it. Probably because they knew you'd cry. "Women are made of water" is what they said when they saw your shocking display of emotion last time. It was meant to comfort or qualify strong feelings, but it made everyone uncomfortable. I stopped as soon as I could. For a stiff upper lip, the Chinese match the Brits step for step. And that's saying a lot. I don't. I can't. Not with this many memories, and this much respect and passion on the line. If I knew where it came from I'd tell you, mostly, it just comes from my heart. It's my passion for tea. And the respect, deep deep respect for my teacher comes from the same place.
It's May 20th, a relatively new holiday in China. In Mandarin slang 520 sounds like "I love you" so it's a Chinese version of Valentines-day-lite. Slightly less commercial, but just give that time. So when I texted my Chinese friends and told them about the dates and times of my flight, my arrival time, I asked what days teacher would be at the tea house. When can I see him? I have so much to share, and so much to learn! "I need to inform you of something" came the text. Teacher has retired. Yes, I knew that, he turned 60 and retiring means working less. "Yes, but he's quit working" um, "So hard" I replied. Of course, its long days, so 6 hours is better than 12. "But I think he might meet you". Might? Meet? And that's when it started to sink in, he's really really not at the tea house. It was an expectation I'd held in my heart for the last two years. He'll be there, waiting. Because of course he will. Because I need him to be. And as the water came pouring out, "Retired is Retired" she said.
After an hour chatting with my friend and fully comprehending what that means for our study, for our travel, for my place in his life, and his in mine, the decision was made. "We must travel. We must keep learning." "Oh, Thanksgiving" came the badly translated reply from my friend. But it's all there is, to keep on, to keep pushing, and keep honoring this legacy that isn't ours, but that we carry for the next generation. As our teacher did.
We ended the chat with comforting words for each other, "tea friends forever" she said, "520 tea sister" I replied.
I'll be in China June 18th - 25th this year. It'll be an interesting trip. I have no idea what's going to happen. You should follow along.