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What fills our cups? Lessons from sharing an empty cup of tea.

My 18-month and I shared a cup of tea the other day. I say a cup of tea, though no tea was actually involved. He had his cup, full of lovely air. He gave me my own empty plastic cup. And we drank together. Quickly, he took back the cup and moved onto another toy, another way to play with whatever this life seems to be about, another potential moment together.

I have many moments like this with him, but they mostly just pass me by as I live the everyday of a dad. But this time, that act of sharing touched me more deeply. I loved it. I loved sharing a cup of tea with him. I loved him and I think, in that moment, he felt love for me.

Sometimes, I wonder if most of my life is spent playing with whatever this life in this area seems to be about. I re-enact the rituals of families, work environments and cultures. I copy the things that seem important or, at least, the things others seem to be doing most often. And it can feel like I’m playing with air.

Of course, I’m not. I’m doing the real thing: real job; real career, real family, real relationships; real children. Real, potentially hot, scolding tea. But when all we’re doing is performing another person’s - organisation’s or society’s - values, rituals and, perhaps most frequent of all, compulsions, then it will feel like it doesn’t really have any substance. That we’re just playing. Perhaps, in this way and to some extent, we’re all playing with air.

I’m left with two ways to end this. Perhaps we ought to choose the former. I suspect we need both.

The first way I’m tempted to end and tie it all together is to suggest that, perhaps in more areas of my life, I need to start taking conscious decisions according to my values, making my own somewhat novel rituals, appreciating and shaping my own compulsions. It was right to learn by copying. That’s how we learn as humans. But the time comes when I will want my son to work out what he wants to drink.

The second way perhaps does greater justice to my experience of sharing an empty cup of tea with my son. There was something about our seemingly mutual awareness: that what we were doing was indeed just playing with air but that we were doing it together. And that that was something delightful. I suspect we need this ending too. Sometimes much more than the first. Sometimes, we just can't escape the absurdities of our lives. And perhaps the best response is to live them but with others, in moments of mutual awareness, laughing at the absurdities we live, delighting in and loving sharing it together. Perhaps such moments are what really fills our cups.

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