Have you ever watched a cup of water? Not in a cloudy-clear glass sitting still on a Formica table at a diner where you expect 1950’s bobby socks and poodle skirts to walk past, and where the waitress wears a mustard yellow uniform in unflattering polyester and has the nametag Flo or Madge stitched crookedly across one breast. No, I’m describing a hot cup of water in a black coffee cup carefully monitored as you carry it back from the tea pot or microwave, water that is potentially scalding, where a wary thumb and forefinger clutch a handle tight to avoid brushing the surface of the mug. Have you ever wondered what the water was thinking?
Ripples quake in the ceramic depths as you navigate the stairs—equal attention on the precarious balance of supporting the contents without it sloshing over and making sure you don’t trip on the risers causing the same outcome. The water is a mirror which reflects glimpses of the outside—a winter white light bounces and then catches your surprised face staring back at you. An impermanent, liquid mirror. And then it is gone again, in the ripples and splash of a miniature storm. This is probably where the expression comes from—a tempest in a teacup. Someone somewhere tripped and an expression was born of momentary carelessness. Will anything I ever say have the same lasting impact? Or must I bruise myself first and stumble my way to clichéd fame?
Does the water care that it once rocked oceans and ruled tiny coastlines—terrorizing small fishing boats, tossing them like broken toys to sink to the sandy bottom? Does it remember falling from the sky and running free through rock-ripped currents and over cataracts, emerging in tranquility to form a volcanic basin on tropic isles? Did this water wash the blood of battle fields and soothe the wounded and dying? Is there an echo of tears in every drop? Does the world weep when it rains?
This water is unaffected by the arts and schemes of human interference. It can be frozen but thawed, steamed but reconstituted, filtered but retains its elemental blueprint: two hydrogen and one carbon, atomic grace notes on a cosmic scale. It can be changed, but never altered. Added to, but never taken away, not really. For it returns from the hidden depths, the wellspring of glacial deposits and melt waters, pressing from the Earth like a sponge squeezed from the reservoir retained in once-living cells. If you drink it, you can taste the memory of its birth. The cooling sun of millions of years ago heated the first molecules to form atmosphere and fill in the gaps of a rocky ball birthed of pressure and centrifugal forces.
I stare into the cup and the universe stares back.
I drop in a teabag and go about my day.