The Countless Other Infinitesimals

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions,—the little, soon-forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment in the disguise of a playful raillery, and the countless other infinitesimals of pleasant thought and feeling.”  

― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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A Postcard From Dystopia

 

 

A vignette...

 

A couple of times a year, Jamie's grandparents would brace themselves to take him on a trip to a theme park or adventure playground and made a great show of having fun. He couldn’t make out where they were coming from because they were normally quite humourless. Above Jamie’s head, they would bicker about what children liked and what disciplines were called for, each claiming a superior interpretation of scriptural wisdom.

After these outings, he’d have bizarre dreams in which his grandparents were cast as 2-D comic Disney characters, pulling and twisting with the immanent velocity of the plot. It was funny, but sort of scary too, like those supermarket promotions where a big, furry cereal monster greeted you at the door looking friendly and benign, but you knew there was an unknowable being inside the costume.

On one occasion, they’d taken him to a Safari Park and monkeys had clambered all over Grandpa’s newly waxed Vauxhall and torn off the windscreen wipers as if they were stripping bamboo. He had made believe they were mischievous tykes and grunted with grisly laughter, but Grandma’s face was menacing with indignation. All day, even over their corned beef picnic, she talked of recompense, insurance. It was no use Grandpa pointing out the notice disclaiming indemnity against such risks. She didn’t blench at the sight of the lions and tigers lunching on blood-smeared carcasses, but turned pale and uptight when he depressed the accelerator hard to show Jamie how the car could whizz along ‘to give the pipes a good blow’.

“Edwin! You’re over the limit! Don’t expect to be kept safe! It’s not me speaking, it’s God!

With the penetrating and uncluttered intuition of a child, Jamie knew that his Grandpa’s mastery of the machine was the one aspect of performance in which he could excel and have Grandma at his mercy.

When she went off to the Ladies, Grandpa told Jamie about an awful dream he kept having.

He was riding a tiger. He was sitting precariously upon its bare back and could see the muscles rippling through the striped sheen of its fur. The tiger repeatedly turned its head and snarled. A hollow rumble was coming from its jaws. Every time hanging foliage whipped against Grandpa's face, he had to concentrate hard to keep his balance. If he fell off, he would be devoured in seconds.

Jamie listened agog. Disappointment at the open ending of the story was stilled by a dull relief.

Then Grandpa said: “You know, don’t you, James, that Grandma’s got native blood? Pirates from the Barbary coast!"

Jamie had only the haziest grasp of what this might mean. He was inherently blind to shades of skin. His best chum's father was from Nairobi. It was not a good time to probe such matters because Grandma was coming back wearing her usual sour expression. She appeared for all the world to be sucking lemons.

“Right then!” said Grandpa. “There’s enough wind to fly a kite today! What do you say, James?”

Evermore, James was to associate kite-flying with the dream. The trouble with kites was that if you let go, they took off in a demented whirl, up and away, before a nosedive over some entangling wood, or plumb into the middle of dark, deep waters where they sank without trace.

 

 

Images courtesy of Nancy Tillman, children's illustrator.

 

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For Better, For Worse

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance

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Tea Ceremony

A gentle hum that grows louder, then turns into a hiss that becomes a gurgle  The water is boiling, bubbling, impatient.  The teacher removes the electric kettle from its base, and pours its contents into a clear glass pitcher.  This hot waterfall emits steam, like gossamer climbing up the inside walls of the container, then spreading in the room, invisible, yet present.  

 

Patience is about waiting and being open to wonder.

 

A few seconds later, the teacher pours the water into all the double-bottomed glass cups arranged on a slatted bamboo tray.  The winter sun filtering through the window gives the small, clear glass a glow.  Another kettleful of water is put to boil.

 

It is by watching that you discover magical secrets.

 

He sits on the small black cushion on the floor, while we, his students, form a horseshoe around the small, beechwood tea table.  Some sit on chairs, others on the floor.  Nobody speaks.  He takes the earthenware bowl with the tea, and passes it around.  In turn, each of us gently fingers the black leaves, feeling the texture, smelling the slightly tart scent.

 

There are a thousand worthy words concealed in silence.

 

One by one, the teacher empties the cups into the slatted tray.  When the bowl of tea is returned to him, he tips the contents into a new glass pitcher.  The black leaves fall down the transparent shaft, with a soft rustling sound.  Once again, he transfers the freshly-boiled water into a glass pitcher, waits a few seconds, then pours it on the tea leaves, and puts the lid on.  Slowly.  Tea leaves, swelling with water, rise through a wavy sea of deepening amber, swirling, gathering on the surface where they linger for a minute or so.  We watch as the first tea leaf detaches itself from the other and gently sways down, landing lightly on the bottom of the pitcher.  Other leaves follow, and soon they are all quitting the surface, drifting to the bottom.  The infusion is now a rich golden amber.  

 

Who would have thought that there is so much beauty is watching tea draw?

 

The teacher pours the tea into every cup.  We all take ours but nobody drinks yet.  Each cradles the cup in the palms of his or her hand, admiring the colour, inhaling the steam, slowly, eventually bringing the tea up to our faces, feeling the warm condensation on our noses, guiding it through our nostrils until we can define its fragrance, delicate, slightly smokey, and send it down our throats and into our lungs.  

 

True pleasure is in sensing every detail, every stage, every minute impression.

 

We take our first sip, hold the hot liquid in our mouths, inhale through our noses, filling our lungs.  The terrain for a full experience of the flavour has been prepared.  After expelling the air, we swallow the tea.  A velvety, smokey, subtle tartness fills our mouths, then trickles down to our stomachs, like warm gold.

 

If you honour the food and drink, it will honour your body.

 

Red Robe Oolong.  Reserved for honoured guests.  It grows on the mountains of the Fujian Province, in China.  They say the mother of an emperor of the Ming Dynasty was cured of a serious illness by drinking this tea.  The grateful emperor sent swathes of Imperial red cloth to dress the bushes from which this tea had been picked.  Others say this tea saved the life of a much-respected scholar at the Emperor's court.

 

A small, shrivelled leaf that bursts with magic.

 

We take another sip.  It never tastes like the first.  The surprise is replaced with a closer acquaintance with the taste of the drink, a closer awareness of its effect on our bodies.  The third sip is pleasure, pure, rewarding pleasure.

 

Awareness flings open the gates to a universe of unlimited possibilities.

It's not just about drinking tea, it's about getting to know it like a friend, getting to know yourself, getting to know the world.  It's about learning, and learning leading to loving.

 

Happy Chinese New Year to all!

Scribe Doll

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Latest Comments

Stephen Evans The Countless Other Infinitesimals
18 February 2019
I came across this in one of Jan Karon's Mitford books, so I can't say I really stuck with Coleridge...
Rosy Cole The Countless Other Infinitesimals
18 February 2019
Hallelujah! Coleridge's thoughts (and yours!) are so much clearer than Emerson's who has a habit of ...
Rosy Cole A Postcard From Dystopia
18 February 2019
Thank you so much, Katia. It's helpful to know you found it so. The passage is from Entertaining Ang...
Katherine Gregor A Postcard From Dystopia
17 February 2019
Wonderfully thought-provoking.
Katherine Gregor Tea Ceremony
05 February 2019
Thank you, Ken. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

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