Tea: A Lesson in Observation
Written By: Maureen Weaver
Taking high tea, in my fanciest attire, with my grandmother and mother, has taught me a valuable lesson, one that my heart has quickly seized and expanded upon over the years. Tea has taught me to observe. My desire to decipher and remember physical surroundings, as well as acutely feel and recognize emotions of myself and others, has been awakened. I’ve found that true observation is not merely noticing, not simply seeing, but being able to perceive how such easily noticed external factors impact another’s heart, the part of them which is not effortlessly read.
Every Mother’s Day, my mom and grandmother would take me to Thistlefields Tea Room, an enchanting establishment that made me feel as if I could enter the front door, just a few miles from the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and emerge on a friendly street corner in England. After sitting down at a small round table with a crisp white tablecloth, I would raise my head and look at the countless tea cups and teapots that sat on a high wooden shelf which encircled the room. Early on, I knew that I loved to notice surroundings. But soon I discovered that noticing the people which interacted with them was infinitely more fascinating.
When I was about ten years old, my first tea room abruptly closed. Thistlefields was where I drank my first cup of tea, where I ate my first lavender scone with lemon curd and clotted cream, and where my dear grandmother had urged me to eat the parsley garnish. Never will another tea room equal it. Not because no other place will serve delicious food or be so beautifully decorated, but because no other place can possibly hold such numerous fond memories.
Civil-A-Tea, a tea room with a clever name derived from its native town of Gettysburg, came next. An especially unique crowd was drawn to this place, an extra small tea house slathered in pink and strewn with garishly feathered hats for guests to wear during tea. Elderly women frequently held their Red Hat Society meetings there, bringing along a generous supply of perfume and rouge. The young waitresses bustled about taking orders, contrastingly rushed and flustered compared to the lounging guests. Tea here was amusing, and my grandmother, mother, and I had multiple memorable conversations, though it was at times quite difficult to hear each other. Most importantly, Civil-A-Tea taught me to appreciate other people’s differences, and take joy in finding a glance into another’s life.
Deliberate, or even absentminded, observation has been eliminated by lives of constant activity, stress, and rush. Stumbling blindly forward on a journey to the ever-rising pinnacle of accomplishment, the majority of people miss the opportunity to see into the books of each other’s lives. They don’t see each other deeply, or even on the surface. Cell phone ear pieces, as just one example, enable people to whisk through the grocery store, physically accomplishing their need for food, while intellectually talking business with their bosses. But with this choice, people brush over any chance to express an encouraging word to their neighbor, to notice when the shopper next to them accidently drops something. In not noticing, they eradicate their opportunity to help; they only scribble negatives on innocent victim’s pages of life.
If unhindered by electronic diversion, take a moment to grin as a little girl skips by holding her mother’s hand, eagerly devouring a massive rainbow lollipop, her curly pigtails bobbing up and down. Laugh at the two women rattling endlessly, and noisily, on about their utterly important news, walking at marathon speed in three inch heels. Hold your breath as a dear old lady walks slowly by, her gray hair feathered to perfection and an exquisite antique brooch glimmering on her luxurious velvet scarf. Recognize a heartbroken face and empathize. Observation ushers in insight. Often, with understanding the progression of other people’s lives, we come to better understand our own.
Lastly, blush and avert your eyes. The individual which you have been absentmindedly observing has discovered you and is wordlessly inquiring with their quizzical gaze why you are staring at them. The temptation is too great, though, you can’t resist looking up again, just a quick glance to see if they’ve looked away yet. Maybe they have, and you can peacefully continue your perusing. But maybe they haven’t, and in that moment a chill runs through you, for you have discovered a kindred spirit, a fellow spectator who has, like you, discovered the innocent beauty of observing the wonders, the people, of the world.