- Posted November 29, 2013 by
Silver Spring, Maryland
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Eight Cups of Life
A visit to HomeGoods with my 20 year old daughter recently, allowed a peak into my future, provided cathartic laughter and a retrospective of my life measured in cups—actual or metaphoric.
The trip was really to the grooming salon at PetSmart in White Flint, Maryland. HomeGoods, a few doors away, is a great place to pass the time while Penny, our miniature poodle, gets bathed and trimmed. I entered the door and veered left—toward a white and gold dinnerware set on display.
“Leave that alone!” she commanded, “You don’t need it.” She followed up with a quick recitation of “things Jamaicans have in their homes but never use.” It included the “crockery” in the cabinet.
Somewhere between seeing myself in old age, as my daughter’s “child,” and processing the truth and the absurdity of what she was saying, I began to laugh.
The laughter kept coming long after we left the display to look for the spice rack she said I needed. She did not find any she liked.
I didn’t care. I was thinking about cups and reliving memories of my
mother’s care for the few she owned, along with matching plates, and kept hidden away solely for a chance visit from a stranger—who never came.
Then, there was the cup my father bought me from the market in Mandeville—a mid-island town, 19 miles from home. The difficulty getting there made it seem much farther and its urban character contrasted sharply with our serene rural community.
Amidst vendors hawking fresh fruits, raw meat, yellow yam, baby clothes, skin lotion, sky juice, scallion and thyme, half-slips, panties and handkerchiefs, I clung to Papa’s hand.
It was on one of those rare trips that he bought me the cup made from a thick, opaque glass. On one side was a bunch of yellow flowers and, on the other, an inscription in black cursive: In the language of flowers, the buttercup is a symbol of childhood, it said.
It went with me to college, 10 years later, despite a chipped edge. Overtime, it disintegrated but it remains in my heart among my forever beautiful things: childhood, flowers, and the immeasurable and irreplaceable sense of safety experienced by a child, her hand firmly in her father’s grasp.
In the Bible, cups are used as metaphors for circumstances, good or bad. In Matthew 26:39, with his crucifixion imminent, Jesus prayed: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...” And, in Psalm 23, David uses an overflowing cup to mean a bountiful life.
In my life, whether they are half-empty, half-full, or overflowing with joys or sorrows, cups commemorate many of my experiences. Here are eight that I own and what they mean.
The Doctor Bird Cup commemorates Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. It connects me to my roots but it also highlights a deep existential restlessness—peace unmade with where I came from, where I am, and where I want to be. It is a symbol of what often is the immigrant’s dilemma: feet moving forward toward an idealized notion of “better” but face turned backward, questioning, regretting and longing for a “good” that is also left behind.
The scholar’s Cup represents my status as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and the visits and presentations to clubs and other activities, mostly in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Most ended with the gift of a cup from the host. The scholarship, meanwhile, was a real achievement attached to a relatively generous grant, and the activities useful in my transition to American life.
The Three Angels Cup sits among the others but it belongs to my younger daughter—a gift from her fifth grade teacher. She is a college senior now but she remains fiercely attached to it. It is an obvious symbol of her affection for her teacher, and it reminds me that I am not her only influencer or protector.
The Cave Cup commemorates a summer vacation in Luray, Virginia. We enjoyed the caves and horseback riding in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it was a difficult time. I could not afford to send the children to their grandparents in Jamaica. We decided instead to explore small town America.
The Writer’s Cup came from Jimenez-Porter Writer House, University of Maryland, courtesy of my firstborn, a 2012 graduate. It represents her engagement in literature, inside and outside of class and my immense pride that even in such a competitive environment, she carved out her space and enjoyed a rich experience. Further, I learned that this quintessential free spirit knows both when to stay within the line and how to redraw them to suit herself.
The Princeton Cup comes from the younger daughter, now a senior at the University. As first generation immigrants, her accomplishment is a testament to hardwork, determination and a functional parent-child partnership
The President’s Cup represents one of the highpoints of my life in America—a tour of Air Force One in 2011, a little over two years after the country elected Barack Obama—its first black president. It was not a scenario that I could have envisioned when I arrived in the United States in 1996. It was a moment to soak in how far America has come as a nation—and how it came to be that I was sitting in the cockpit of Air Force One! There is precedent: We met President Clinton at the White House in 1999 and we took turns sitting in his chair in the cabinet room.
The Shalom Cup is a gift from my neighbor, Michal, after her trip to Israel this summer. We moved alongside each other, almost 10 years ago, in Kemp Mill Estates, a largely orthodox Jewish community in Silver Spring. Despite our different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, we share some common struggles—implicit in our role as single mothers—and common aspirations. She wants to see Jamaica; I want to see the Holy Lands.
We fantasize about visiting our homelands together with what’s left of the future—when the kids are gone and the bills are paid off.
For now, Shalom is a good place to end: a wish for peace, completeness and prosperity.