I served Chai Tea to a Tai Chi Master during a poetry reading last week. It was a sacred moment and quite unexpected. The events of that evening unraveled in a series of missed connections and new discoveries.
Let me explain how the universe conspired to place me in the presence of a Tai Chi Master. For those who follow my blog you know that this is my “Year of Yes” (this introvert is saying yes to invitations and opportunities that I would typically shy away from).
So here is how it began. I recently joined a writer’s group and offered to help fold and mail the spring newsletter. My contact, Lois, a sweet older woman, called and asked to stop by my home to drop off the newsletters but I was on my way to another event (a “year of yes” has filled my calendar). So I suggested we meet later in the day to which she responded, “Do you like poetry, dear?”
“Of course, I do,” I stumbled, wondering if that was true, having never truly grasped the lyrical prose of poetry.
“Wonderful,” she replied. “Then let’s meet at the bookstore in town at 7 pm for the poetry reading. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee,” she offered.
“Um, okay, that sounds lovely,” I replied. Oh dear, what had I gotten myself into?
“Oh, and Sue, if you arrive before I get there please order me a chai tea, no cream.”
“Of course, chai tea, no cream,” I repeated. “I look forward to seeing you, Lois.”
And so it happened that I arrived before 7 pm at the bookstore and ordered an iced coffee for myself and a chai tea, no cream, for Lois. The barista said she would bring the tea to the table after it had steeped for the proper time.
I found my way to the back of the musty old bookstore to a small room filled with books from floor to ceiling. Three older men sat around a long table talking. They fell silent upon my approach.
I introduced myself and explained that Lois had invited me. They welcomed me and offered me a seat. I sat next to an old man with a long white beard, bushy eyebrows, and cloudy blue eyes. He asked my name and I said it three times, moving closer to him with each effort until he responded “Ah, Susan.” He then confessed he was hard of hearing.
The men had been discussing the looming eye surgery of the old man. His cataracts so thick he is rendered nearly blind.
As the men spoke and I listened, several other people arrived and gathered around the table. The barista entered with a small tray, holding a beautiful white teacup and saucer and a small pot of chai tea. She placed the tray of tea on the table in front of me. It was 7 pm, Lois must be running late, I thought. The old man called the poetry meeting to order.
He asked if I had a poem to read. I responded, “Oh goodness, no. I’m just here to listen and learn.”
And so the old man went around the room inviting others to read their poems. The man named “Shadow” read powerful poems of history and war, and girls in knee-high boots. The big man with the beard read romantic poems of love and loss and moonlit nights. The man named Noah read poems of nature, hiking, and guns. They read, critiqued and discussed each poem at length.
And then the old man, blinded by cataracts and nearly deaf, recited his poem on Infinity, from memory. I was awestruck. He recited several more of his poems, pausing for effect, his prose musical and enchanting.
His poem on Silence held me spell-bound. Afterward, he explained the importance silence plays in our world, based on his experience with Tai Chi. (Have I mentioned I’ve always wanted to learn Tai Chi?)
The old man recounted the opening of the Beijing Summer Olympics where over two-thousand Chinese performed Tai Chi in silence. I was transfixed by his words, his quiet, calm, yet powerful energy. I inquired of his experience with Tai Chi. He explained that he had studied the art of Tai Chi with the Grand Master, William Chen.
The old man said, humbly, that he had been studying and teaching Tai Chi for over 45 years and was simply a Tai Chi Master, not a Grand Master.
I glanced down at the teapot on the table, an hour had passed, still no Lois. I offered the tea to the old man and he graciously accepted.
I reached over and placed the teacup and saucer in front of him. As I poured the tea from the pot he took a deep breath and smiled. “Smells delicious. Thank you, Susan, you are too kind,” he said, lifting the teacup to his lips.
It was in that moment, goosebumps covered my body and I knew I was in the presence of a great spiritual master. I recalled the saying:
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears”
And so, in the spirit of saying “yes” to the universe, I took my first Tai Chi lesson yesterday from the old man. I learned about “effortless effort” and “investment in loss”. I also learned the first three movement sets of Tai Chi, slowly, with patience, as the master guided me.
As for my friend Lois, she called to apologize for missing the poetry reading. Yet I am grateful for her invitation and the opportunity to pour tea for my new teacher. And who knows, I may just learn to make words sing like a poet while mastering the power of silence, balance, and patience through the art of Tai Chi.
Wishing you all a magical Monday!