This weekend, I had one more tea-related place to visit – a monthly lesson held by this group:
It was the first lesson of the new fiscal year, so a few honorary guests from an organization that helps fund the group’s activities were invited to observe how effective their money is being spent. In other words, it was a day to show how much the students taking the lessons have learned, so the group could continue to be partially subsidized by the funding organization.
Because I am not “officially” taking lessons, I was not sure if I should be there. But the teacher said, because I can get dressed in traditional wear on my own and my skills and manners as a waiter are satisfactory to her standard, I could help give a good impression on the guests. She has been nothing but kind to me, so I thought, if I could be of any use to her, I should be glad to help out, even if it meant telling a little lie.
But I was glad I went. The teacher told the guests the whole truth about how she scouted me to her lessons, and said that she must be doing something right to have someone like me come to her lessons, even if I do not officially take lessons. And the guests seemed to agree – they went home quite content with what they saw, me included!
After the guests left, it was back to lesson time as usual for the students. Just as before, I acted as a waiter, an assistant to the persons making tea, and a dish-washer… and just as before, I was rewarded for my “hard work” with a chance to handle the tea set and make a few bowls of tea. YAY!!
I must have appeared very happy with this chance, because an experienced student said “you truly love the Way of Tea, don’t you!” And I must have treated the tea items very dear, because a novice student told me “your moves are so elegant… I have a lot to learn from you!”
But when the teacher asked me how I got into learning the traditional art of tea, and I explained how I grew up abroad and saw it as a way to feel more a part of my people, a long-time student said “oh, then you can be our interpreter when we have foreigners as guests at tea services!” And when the focus of talks shifted to the traditional wear I chose for the day, and I explained that it was passed down to me from a relative, a first-time student took a long hard look at it and exclaimed “you don’t see this quality of work nowadays… you must have a very generous relative!”
I came across many people today, and to each, I appeared differently.
Maybe to the teacher, I was someone who she could use to better her own impression (but without lying).
Maybe to the experienced student, I was a fellow apprentice of the Way of Tea and in love with it just as much as she is.
Maybe to the novice student, I became a role model to look up to (although I would not recommend it!).
Maybe to the long-time student, I might be the solution to what has been troubling her for years when serving tea to those of different cultures.
Maybe to the first-time student, I looked like a spoiled brat bragging about my rich family (yeah, I wish!) wearing expensive clothing!
I cannot know for sure what I am (or will be) to these people. Maybe I will like being what I am to them in some cases, because it matches the person I want to be. But in cases in which I do not like what they see in me, will I be brave enough to ask “what am I to you, really?” And will I be strong enough to refuse being them if it does not match the person I want to be?
Maybe it will depend on the answer to the question “what are they to me?”
Maybe I must take my sweet time answering this question, suspending all judgments I am inclined to make hastily based on the preconceptions and prejudice I might get from their quick answers to the question “what am I to you?”