I’m sure you’ve heard the parable comparing life to a cup of coffee.

No?  I will tell you the story now …

Several students gathered at a favourite professor’s home for a reunion.  Seeing eachother for the first time in years, they hugged and kissed, and became reacquainted through a lively discussion.  They compared notes, caught up on lives and deaths, joked and told stories.

The students – now in their 40s and 50s – then began to complain.  About life.  About stress.  About their jobs.  Their spouses.  Their kids.  Their cars.  “If only life was as simple as the university years!” they cried.

Their old professor quietly left the group to go to his kitchen.  He assembled a tray of odd looking coffee mugs.  Some were ornate with gold trim, some clearly came from old sets of pottery and china.  Some were simple mugs with slogans.  A few were clear glass.  There was an older mug, well loved and well used, with a chip in the handle.   There were elegant crystal mugs and plain plastic mugs.

He then brought out a plate of freshly made sandwiches and made a pot of coffee.  As the professor went back to the kitchen for sugar and cream, he told the students to help themselves.

When he came back, he looked around and said “Do you notice that each of you took a nice looking coffee mug?” 

The students looked around at each other’s mugs and those left on the tray.  The plain, the plastic, the old.

The old professor continued … “It’s normal to want the best for yourself and your family, but that is the source of your unhappiness.” He paused for a moment, and said: “All you wanted was a cup of coffee, but each of you grabbed the expensive mugs and looked to see which mug was best.”

The students looked around again.

“Does the cup really add to the quality of the coffee?  In most cases the mug is just more expensive.  Look at that one!  It is trimmed with pure gold, but the handle is so ornate, it’s awkward to hold.  It might even take away some enjoyment from the coffee.”

Everyone paused.

“Consider this,” he said “life is like a cup of coffee.  The coffee is life … and the mug is your job, your house, your salary and your position in life.  They are just tools to get you through the coffee … life.  The type of mug you have doesn’t change the type or quality of your life.”

“Sometimes … concentrating on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.  Learn to savour the coffee, not the cups.”

It’s a lovely story … and I agree with the premise that the happiest among us don’t necessarily have the best of the best.  We just make the best of everything.

But I do have favourite mugs.

Coffee tastes terrible in plastic mugs.

Most of the mugs I cherish have been given to me as gifts.  Some I bought myself, and they have become a symbol of something important to me.

I have one large, vintage 1982 mug with the Laws of Computer Programming listed on the sides on that old green and white computer printout paper.  That’s about the time I started coding.  I can’t get rid of that mug.  I might even pass it down to my son.

I have a beautiful earthenware mug with a herd of galloping horses drawn by a Métis artist from Québec.  My sister gave me a set of two, but I only have one left.

When my first set of Mikasa dishes were half broken and chipped, I donated all but one full place setting to Goodwill.  As I wear down each set of dishes, I would love to create a table full of odd place settings of my favourite patterns.

Matthew’s first Christmas plate and cup are still with us … just in case Santa needs milk and cookies and the reindeer need carrots.

And I absolutely LOVE the Monster Mash pottery Matthew painted when he was about five.

I have a collection of Fox mugs given to me by friends.

I have mugs that I love for their shape and size rather than colour.

And last but not least … I have a new mug from Jutta.  She and I became friends this summer while attending a July 1st Canada Day celebration at a mutual friend’s place.  We connected on Facebook and I fell in love with the pottery she makes.  Exquisitely handcrafted works of art.  Each piece lovingly made and posted into her Pottery Album.  I ooohhed and aaahhhed over one particular mug.  It resonated with me.  The richness of the colours and the glaze were beautiful.  A play on gold and silver … honey brown and grey.  A pairing I happen to love.  Her name and her mother’s stamp are on the bottom.  Perhaps a faux paux to admire it so openly?  In Japan, it is considered bad manners to openly admire something belonging to your host.  Etiquette dictates that he must offer it to you.  I did not mean to be rewarded for my admiration!

She gave me the mug when we stopped into her place after Chemo #15.

I do believe that inanimate objects have positive and negative energies.  People, places and things aren’t so solid when you get down to quantum physics where everything is energy.  But that is another post for another day …

I said “No Jutta!  It’s a beautiful mug but I don’t want to take it” but she shoved it into my hands anyway.  I hugged her in thanks.

There is something deeply personal about this mug.  The colours … the shape … how it fits in my hands.  It’s the first one I reach for in the morning and I dislike if it’s sitting with the other dirty dishes in the sink.  My coffee does indeed taste better in this mug.

Jutta and I were practially strangers, but she gave me a cup of kindness.  A simple act that means so much when you are sick.

To me the difference between my life and the Life Story from the professor is this … We are allowed to love the mugs as much as the coffee because they enrich eachother in their blend.  It’s when we want all of the pretty mugs or all of the best coffee that we get into trouble.  I don’t own any mugs that cost tons and tons of money … but mine are priceless.  I’ve had great cups of coffee in paper cups … and horribly bitter coffee in the most refined dining establishment.  And vice versa.  It was the experience that made it memorable.

Some of the best cups of coffee that I have had this year?

  • Sneaking out of the Stroke Unit for a Tim Hortons coffee from the hospital’s coffee shop in my jammies and flip flops.
  • The cup of coffee my son made for me (he hates coffee) when I couldn’t get out of bed because I was so sick and weak from chemo.
  • Lattes and laughter shared with friends after meals.
  • Buying Amazonia by Van Houtte at Farm Boy … I look forward to every cup.
  • That first-morning brew sipped on the balcony while the sun rises and the neighbourhood quietly awakens.

I’ve learned that my eclectic collection of odd mugs is much more meaningful that a perfectly matched set of expensive mugs.  And they have much better stories and MUCH better karma.

Live simply.  Love generously.  Laugh often.  Speak kindly.  Do good.  Care deeply for one another.


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