You may not know this about me, but I have very strong feelings about coffee mugs. I rail against generic mugs that can be owned by anyone. I am a firm believer in Mug Individuality. A coffee mug is like the sticker collection of every child of the ’90’s (like myself.) It’s a place to show off your chosen weirdness, nerd-dom, and inside joke in a socially acceptable context that still allows you to be cool (’90’s, sticker-collecting me)/recognized as a responsible adult (grown-up me.) I love people rocking all their dorky TV show mugs, the sarcastic witticism mugs, and the weird, unicorn glitter mugs used by macho daddies because they were gifts lovingly chosen by four-year-old-daughters.
Second in the Mug Consideration (and sometimes squeaking into first place, depending on the day), is Holdiness Factor, pronounced HOLD-ee-nehss. (That’s not a word you say? Au contraire. It is. I made it up. You know who else made up words? Shakespeare). Holdiness is an absolute must. Mugs need to be able to cradle cold fingers and make you feel safe and comfortable. All mugs must be tested for Holdiness Factor before being allowed into my kitchen cabinet. (I have finite space, so competition is fierce.)
Then there are a few other, less exciting considerations, such as mug size (I don’t like giant mugs because the coffee gets cold before I can drink it and then I feel cheated), thickness of the ceramic for optimal coffee cooling ratio given the temperature of our house, and finally, day of the week. Yes, I have certain mugs that are designated in my mind as “work day mugs,” and other mugs that are “weekend mugs.” Some even skirt that “it’s a work day but I’m not at work/I’m on vacation” mug line.
I bring this up because tomorrow, my co-teacher and I will have our first digital “coffee hour” with our students–just a time for them to drop in and talk and for us to talk to them. An opportunity for us to do what high school music directors do best–be the emotional supports. We are the de facto grown-up ears and eyes to give advice when it’s uncool to ask your parents, and to tell you that the right thing that you know you should do, even though it’s hard, really is the right thing to do. It’s the nature of music, really. In such an intensely personal discipline, the success of which is fundamentally dependent on your ability to express the wordless places of the human experience, you connect with your students in a really personal place.
So tomorrow, I step back into this part of my job that is more important now than ever. And I’ve given a lot of thought to which mug I’m going to pick for coffee tomorrow. (If I hadn’t just dedicated three paragraphs to the importance of coffee mugs, this may have even come as a surprise to you.) Every time I open my cabinet, I toss around which mug I want to be holding when I talk to my kiddos–what message I will send, even if no one know it but me.
I think I’ve settled on my choice, and it’s kind of surprising to me. If you’d asked me a year ago, “It’s a pandemic. You need to have a coffee cup to represent yourself. What do you choose?” I would not have chosen the one that I’m choosing today. The mug I picked is not an old, thrift store gem. It’s not my hygge favorite. It’s not a pithy Golden Girls homage. It’s a random mug I won in a drawing a college friend did on Facebook that arrived in a USPS box on my doorstep on what turned out to be the last day of Old Normal. At the time, I threw it in my cabinet on probation, because I didn’t think it was going to make the cut to stay in my mug collection.
But then the world fell apart, and I have found myself drawn to its clean white lines and simple message: “Beautiful, Beautiful.” At the risk of being cliché, it’s kind of true. The world is suddenly a really scary, dangerous place for everyone–not just people in the developing world, or people who are poor, or people who are old, or people who are on the fringes–for everyone.
There are lots of stories about terrible things happening–people not listening to sound but unpopular advice, people putting financial gain before what is right–but these people have always and will always exist. The crisis just makes their true colors apparent. But more than that, greater than that, are the stories of the thousands and thousands of people who are stepping up and standing in the gap–crafters taking up their sewing machines and turning their fabric stashes into cloth face masks for hospitals and care centers all over the country. Companies that make vacuums, cars, and jet engines suddenly turning all their research and production power to developing and mass producing ventilators and respirators. Churches and convention centers opening their doors and becoming field hospitals. And then there are the true heroes–doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, truckers, delivery drivers, and mailmen and -women–the people who walk into the storm for us all. It is overwhelming sometimes when you reflect on all the good that is happening in this sea of danger.
As that great philosopher of our time, and my personal hero, Mr. Rogers once said,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are so many helpers–so many caring people in the world.”
Because there are. Our present crisis proves it. There are so many helpers. And it is:
See you tomorrow!