On cups of tea and other meditations
A while ago, Nerada Tea asked me to write a recipe using their fabulous products. When I agreed, they sent me a carton of more than ten different herbal and black tea blends and I’ve pondered and taste tested and developed recipes for a sponsored post ever since. Then, just as I had finished the first recipe, Barmbrack, something happened in my ordinary day that demanded a well-earned and restorative cup of tea. And it got me thinking, not just about the many ways cups of tea have provided focal points in our lives, but how often it soothes us without us knowing or realising it’s happening. Tea is like that.
Coffee, not so.
Nerada Tea is the largest grower and manufacturer of tea in Australia with over 1,000 acres of planted tea on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland and produces over 1.5 million kilos of black tea a year – that’s about 750 million cups of tea.
But in the end, I wasn’t thinking about the vast scale of operations Nerada have – I was left pondering the stories we all have, over a solitary cuppa. Our stories are so often hidden in the background, they are the sort we might only share with a trusted friend over a cup of tea. Or at a bus stop, as happened to me earlier this week.
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This is how it happened: I was standing at a bus stop when a car skittled an elderly woman as she crossed the road. Right in front of me.
The background noise of traffic at the nearby intersection was on mute while I was listening to the contents of my head, so I didn’t notice the car slow down in front of me on the approach to the red traffic lights. I didn’t see the old woman as she crossed diagonally across the road, hands laden with shopping bags, as she tried to avoid the pedestrian crossing a further 20 metres away.
There was just a short screech of tyres on tarmac, a dull thud as the front side of the car connected with the hip of the old woman and then I watched, fully focused now, as she fell in slow motion, onto her side as the contents of her grocery bags went everywhere.
I was the first one to her.
“No, stay there. Don’t try to get up. Lie down. Tell, me, where does it hurt? Elbow? Hip? What’s your name? Irene? Hi, I’m Sandra. Please stay there, we’ll help you.”
I turned and looked behind me. There was a young man, earphones on, bright shiny suit. A business type. “Could you call an ambulance please?” He nodded, reaching for his phone.
“No, no ambulance. I must get home. My husband. He has dementia, I can’t leave him.” The old woman, whose name was Irene, was by now attempting to get up, but was clearly in pain. She didn’t make it too far before laying back down, me with my hand under her head to cradle it off the road. Cars went round us as the lights turned green.
Around us, two more women materialised. One held her hand, the other talked to Mr Shiny Suit, then introduced herself. She seemed very composed, unflappable, explaining she was a nurse. Quickly assessing the situation, she nodded in agreement when told an ambulance had been called.
A second man, who I vaguely recall waiting with me at the bus stop, stepped further into the road. He directed the cars around us all, waving grocery bags of his own in his hands as he did so. In between breaks in the traffic, he picked up the scattered groceries, then put them on the pavement in a neat pile.
Irene wanted to sit up, so we helped her, gently, steadily. She made it as far as a sitting position but couldn’t go further. The other woman who crouched next to her supported her back but seemed very teary. It was only then I realised she was the driver of the car. She was in shock.
“It’s okay,” I kept repeating. I wanted to add, “You’ve done nothing wrong”, but checked myself. Instead she said, “I was on my way to the cemetery”.
Oh, Christ. I looked at her immaculate car. The back seat was filled with flowers. When I looked back at her, to see her crying, silently, her shaky hands still placed around Irene’s shoulders.
It’s okay, I say. I kept repeating it, over again, like a mantra. It’s okay. The ambulance is coming, but Irene couldn’t wait any longer; she needed to lie back down. I took off my thick coat, huddled down next to her, placed it under her head. It was blowing a gale and I silently cursed myself for minding that she had my coat. I was tempted to use her as a wind break. It’s okay, the ambulance is coming.
Irene wanted to go home. My Husband, she said. I must get back to him. The nurse starts taking down names and phone numbers. Do you have anyone who can stay with him while you go to hospital? A daughter? A son?
As the sirens in the distance get louder, the nurse called Irene’s daughter in law. I heard her say, “it’s okay, she’s conscious, lucid …”.
The driver was still weeping quietly. As I put my hand on her back, she says “I was visiting my dad and brother at the cemetery. I never usually come down this street, never…”
When the ambos arrived I found myself giving a sort of handover. They helped her gently onto a stretcher, bundled her into the ambulance, then started a closer examination of Irene’s injuries. The man directing traffic waved good-bye, explaining he had a bus to catch. The nurse was still on the phone, trying to work out if Irene’s son could come from work and help his parents.
Mr Shiny Suit walked over and said goodbye. “I would stay”, he says, “but I have to get to a job interview.” It’s only after he headed off that I realised I didn’t know his name. Right there I sent up a silent prayer that he gets this job. Karma, for God’s sake …
Two police cars arrived and the driver is trembling. The response was unexpected. One of the officers recognised her immediately – an old friend – and proceeded to wrap her up in a huge bear hug. She was shaking, half crying, half laughing at his Dad jokes about meeting her under these circumstances. The other police officer asked me – now a witness of sorts – what happened. Once I tell him, it’s clear that no-one is pressing any charges, and attention now turns to the driver. Is she okay?
Are you okay?
Well, no obviously not. There’s a reason you’re going to the cemetary isn’t there? Only we will never know just what those circumstances are. Only that you were lost in your thoughts and didn’t see Irene until it was too late. Irene who was walking where she shouldn’t have been.
The driver was worried that people will recognise her. She’s worked locally for years, she says, everyone knows her. Don’t worry, said her copper mate. What you need is a good cup of tea.
She explained to us then that, like Irene’s husband, her mother is at home, with dementia. What is it about these carers who have no one else? Oh I have my husband, she says. He’s a great help. He’s with her now.
The nurse reported that the son was ambivalent about leaving work to see his mum. Irene by now was insisting they drive her home. Reluctantly the ambos had no other choice but to agree. She was lucid, could walk and couldn’t be told otherwise. I wonder what sort of hell she is in if no one else can look after her husband in an emergency. It troubles me greatly.
The nurse wasn’t satisfied. I’m going to call the son this evening, she explained. Just to see if she got to hospital after all.
As the ambulance pulled away into the traffic, we gathered up our things, then told the driver we will be in touch. We now know where she works – it won’t be hard to check on her later in the week.
So, after all the excitement, I caught the next bus home and headed into the kitchen and in that time-honoured automatic response of our society, I put on the kettle.
Tea is more than just a meditation in times of strife. It’s a balm for sorry times. Everyone in that incident had a back story: The nurse who was coming off night shift, already weary but unable to shake the work habits of decades; Mr Shiny Suit who stopped to help when he could least afford to; An old lady who had a family but no-one to help her in what must be an unremitting hell looking after a patient with Alzheimer’s; a lady with unexpressed sadness who just wanted to take flowers to some gravesites.
Tea, besides being a chance to slow down for a few minutes, makes great inroads towards a healing at times like this. Except when it doesn’t. Two supporters, who were without support that day.
Later in the evening I called the nurse. ‘You won’t believe it,” she said, “the son refused to take her to hospital. Five hours in a waiting room, who wants that? he said”. We both sat on the ends of the phone conversation, silently pondering how the good intentions of so many people could have failed to galvanise those closest to the old woman.
And when I do, I shall take a sweet treat of some sort. Made with tea because that’s my focal point this moment. Made with love. Made with all the good intentions of the small village that rushed to help. Made as a gentle reminder, that sometimes, even the supporters in our lives need support of their own.
Do you have a story involving a cup of tea at a focal time in your life? Make a cuppa and share it with us.