Picture of a handmade mug.

The Mug

Last week at the cottage, I spotted this handmade mug at a wonderful gift shop we visited on the way into town. I did what I always do when debating the merits of a “just because” purchase: I picked it up, admired it for a few minutes, and then launched into a silent but heated conversation in my head about whether or not I needed a new mug. It was a futile argument, since no one ever really needs a new mug, much like no one ever needs a new notebook. Or a new fountain pen.

After the requisite amount of internal fussing, I walked out of the shop empty handed. But as we made our way through the rest of our errands, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mug. It’s not just that it was beautiful to look at, or that its weight and size seemed particularly well equipped to contain the boldness of my morning dark roast. It wasn’t just that it was made in Canada by a woman artist, or that drinking from it each day would serve as a lovely reminder of this year’s cottage trip, which was especially good. While all of these things kept me thinking about the mug as I meandered through the aisles of the Bancroft Foodland, I also couldn’t help but feel that the image on it was whispering something to me about the shape of my own life and the ways I understand it as I prepared to turn the corner on a half century. Needless to say, we stopped into the shop on the way back home and bought the mug.

Back at the cottage, I stared at it for a good long while. For obvious reasons, I saw a cross at the centre, but as my daughter pointed out, it could just as easily be a tree. I love the way the four points are pulled together gently by connecting strokes that twist and turn into each other, like a Celtic knot. I noticed that the connecting lines aren’t solid — the artist has put in breaks at the points where the strokes loop back into each other in unexpected directions. When you take a step back and look again, the breaks become less noticeable, and a coherence emerges from the lines as they slope gently towards the centre. What you can’t see in the picture is that top rim is slightly askew, forcing me to do a double take as I set it down on the table. The imperfection only adds to its charm, reminding me that this is a thing made by human hands. All of the features seem at once intentional and accidental, which is a lot like how understand the design of my life.

As crazy as it sounds, buying this mug has helped to shift something internally. Like many others, I have struggled during the waves of the continuing pandemic to maintain the necessary connections to myself and others that give rise to creativity and wholeness. Unlike those who managed to figure out how to flourish creatively amidst repeated lockdowns, I more or less lost the ability, and the desire, to write my way through the difficult and the beautiful. And I don’t mean just on this blog, which has been remarkably good-natured about the chronic neglect it has suffered. My internal landscape has been noticeably dulled by the isolation and uncertainty of the last two years. And although I seemed to have moved beyond languishing, I find I still can’t quite summon up the required energy or discipline to regularly translate my feelings into coherent sentences, much less ones that I think might appeal to my faithful readership of five. It has felt easier, perhaps even safer, to move through these the long days and weeks and months by keeping my focus squarely on day to day tasks, checking my work email a thousand times a day, and sticking within the structured and imposed demands of essays and assignments. Save the occasional experiment with preparing intercessions for Sunday services, my proverbial inkwell has been pretty damn dry. But, staring at this mug for the last week has somehow made it possible, indeed even essential, to at least try to make sense of the world in my own words again, and has made me want to recommit to making time and space to attend to the messy contours of my mind. Hell, maybe even attend to this blog.

As I sip my morning coffee from my new mug on the start of my 50th birthday, I’m aware of a whole host of things on my heart, but some feelings are clearer than others. Amidst the predictable fears and concerns of middle age and hovering just slightly above the chronic worry and existential angst that has always defined me (and likely always will), I find myself resting comfortably in a deep and abiding sense of gratitude. Gratitude for all that has been, and all that is to come. I am acutely aware of how this might read like an annoying hashtag #blessed sentiment, but I will have to risk the eye rolls and judgment of my peers because I honestly don’t have a better word for it. It’s not just a garden variety kind of gratitude, though. It’s the kind that you feel deep in the marrow of your bones, the kind that makes you quite sure you have a soul. It’s a gratitude that stems from knowing that no matter what lies ahead, you have already had the chance to touch the sky more than a few times, and you know what it feels like to be loved and to love freely, even when that love ends painfully by chance or by choice. It’s a gratitude that comes from realizing that even though your body doesn’t look or feel like quite like you hoped, it’s the same strong and capable body that has been faithfully carrying you towards the centre for fifty years, towards communion with yourself and with others. It’s the kind of gratitude that can help offset the effects of a global pandemic that has robbed us all of too much for too long, and the kind that can steady you against the onslaught of human brokenness that passes as morning news. It’s a gratitude that makes you want to send work emails that say “Hey, thanks for being in my life” rather than “How’s that project coming?” It’s the very kind that makes you want to shout and sing and cry at the thought of everything and everyone that has brought you to this moment without shame or embarrassment, and that compels you invite a ridiculous amount of people to an Argos game to share in the full catastrophe that is your life. Mostly, it’s the kind of gratitude that helps you look past the disastrous state of your living room to see, with fresh eyes, the holy splendidness of your one wild and precious life, and the staggering beauty of those who have helped to shape its imperfectly perfect design. It’s the gratitude of knowing you are loved, just as you are, by a creator whose grace and mercy is boundless, and that you too have the capacity to love that way, even if you fail spectacularly at it on most days.

And even if this feeling of gratitude only lasts until you finish the last drop of coffee and you look up to find that it’s well past noon and the kids still haven’t had breakfast, it’s still enough. Maybe even more than enough.

I’m very glad I bought the mug. Here’s to the next fifty.