There is a blue coffee cup sitting on my writing desk. It is chipped at the lip and I like the feel of the small rough spot on the tip of my tongue as I pour into my mouth black coffee that has not been hot for hours.
The mug was my grandmother’s, part of a set of Bibey pottery that was divided among her descendents at some point in the long slow process of losing her. It is a sort of murky version of robin’s egg splattered with royal blue spots.
It is clunky, unrefined, heavy. Impossible to set down on any surface without it’s making a solid clunk. Certainly we have more beautiful mugs in the cabinet, more carefully made, more aesthetically pleasing. Mugs with thinner walls and finer lips, more perfectly rounded and trimmed. The bottom of this one looks as though it was scraped carelessly from the shelf, dipped in the nearest bucket of glaze, “BB” scratched on hastily for good measure.
Still, every morning this is the mug that I choose. How attached we become to our objects.
When Joseph was in the hospital with RSV, tubes coming out of his head running to the plastic IV bag and wires dangling from his big toe to the wall, I nearly lost track of myself. We were only there three days.
The room was decorated with an “outer space” theme which meant that the walls were dark blue and they’d glued a border of planets around the room at the ceiling. The crib was designed as though they wanted it to look like a jail cell, and his wires made it impossible for him to sleep next to me like we did at home. Most of the day I sat in the one green plastic chair, holding my baby carefully so to not bother his IV, and staring at the empty TV screen.
The hospital brought me meals on a tray the color of yesterday’s oatmeal. Underneath the Tupperware lid left over from the 1970’s, there was a white plate with a single slice of white bread, a perfectly round scoop of mashed potatoes (the kind that arrives as a box of powder), and a piece of meat drizzled in something brown. Mostly I ate the snacks that friends brought from the outside.
One morning my friend Rose brought me a cup of black coffee from the Hawthorne House in this goofy chipped mug the approximate size and shape of a soup bowl. There was a big triangular piece missing from the rim so that I had to sip carefully from the other side. I was so happy to see that broken mug, I laughed out loud. I kept it by my chair all day, the coffee in it slowly reaching its familiar room temperature.
I’m not materialistic and in the grand scheme I don’t think our objects matter very much. But I do have to recognize that sometimes our objects talk to us, or perhaps that through them we talk to ourselves. That mug was such a comfort, such a reassurance that I am still who I am. It gave my heart a point of reference and kept me from losing track of myself inside that hospital which housed me and my small son but refused to acknowledge the human beings that we were. Even the fluids that supported his weakened little body, the careful monitoring of his quickened heartbeat, were accomplished without a human hand.
In to that void came this silly broken cup, this message from our home, our community, our microcosm culture, that said: “Hey, we see you. We know who you are, and we’ll be here when you come back.”