December 4, 2020

A cup of chai in the afternoon

L makes chai many afternoons when we are home together. She uses the recipe for quick chai that my mom showed her some months ago, and the resulting cup is warm and milky and delicious.

We don’t have chai every afternoon, of course. Sometimes, we are out running errands or at an appointment for Z (there are more of those than you’d expect.) Sometimes, Z is in a mood and requires more care and attention than two adults can give her. Either way, the making and drinking of chai feels regular enough that it feels like ritual, but irregular enough that it still feels special every time we partake.

On particularly good days, we enjoy the chai with some kind of baked good—cookies mostly, recently, as they are faster to bake than cakes and loaves—and relish in this little afternoon sweet treat of tea and sweets. On days when Z is being somewhat fussy, we might omit the cookies and drink the chai quickly, still enjoying it despite our haste.

This is my favorite kind of ritual: one that feels perfectly normal and natural enough to bring comfort and solace, but still novel and irregular enough to produce delight. It is a ritual I don’t take for granted because it is not a daily one, but it is an occurrence that feels perfectly part of my day because it isn’t so rare or strange.

When Z gets older, maybe our chai drinking ritual will change. Maybe we will have more, or maybe we will find less time to enjoy the break. Once the COVID restrictions lift and we’re able to have people over again, maybe we can share the chai break with other friends and loved ones. Either way, the ritual will mean something new as it takes on a new dimension. Right now, I will revel in its comfort and bask in its delight—all lovely emotions carried in a warm, milky cup.

Two poems

I Worried
Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

A New National Anthem
Ada Limón

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

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→ Weekend Reading