It was the shoes that first caught my attention. They lined both sides of three wide steps which led up to platform on which sat a tent. A sign on the top step said, “Please leave shoes here,” and people had – sandals, boots, flip-flops, sneakers.
What was this place? Could I go in? Any place that asks me to remove my shoes before entering is one I want to be in. There’s automatically a sort of reverence, somehow there’s a sense of peace and sacredness. Whatever this place was, I wanted to experience it.
I was at the Lake Eden Arts Festival and had just finished participating in a chant, so stepping into a tent that required me to remove my shoes seemed like the next logical place to go.
I sat on the steps, unlaced my hiking sneakers, and pulled them off. I placed them in an empty spot on the steps, got up and headed toward the entrance. I pushed the flap aside and walked in.
There was a long, low table at the opposite end of the tent covered with stones and crystals and candles – an altar of sorts. On either side were low tables surrounded by cushions and floor chairs. The floor was covered with straw mats. The walls were draped with fabrics in maroon and green.
The people gathered around the two tables drank tea and conversed quietly. Everyone seemed at peace in that moment. I could stay here forever, I thought.
At the table to my left, each spot around the table was occupied. At the table to my right were a few people who seemed, due to their posture, to be in deep conversation not to be interrupted.
Wanting to quickly fade into the scene like I knew what I was doing, I sat on a cushion just outside the circle of people to my left. A couple decided they were finished and offered me their seat.
The girl behind the table wore a colorful scarf draped over her hair, and had dots and swirls painted across her right cheek and nose. She explained to those of us that had just joined what kind of tea we were drinking, where it came from, and how the leaves were processed.
A little girl – maybe four years old – and her father walked in. The girl took the empty seat beside me and was greeted by name by the tea master woman.
“Would you like some tea Maeve?”
“Yes, please,” she said. The tea master filled a small glass bowl with translucent green liquid. She passed it to me, and I placed it into the little girl’s hands. It was the perfect size for her.
I was surprised when my tea was served to me in the same sized bowl, but loved the feeling of being a child again drinking out of something so tiny.
Maeve took a few sips and then announced she was done. I took her bowl and placed it on the table in front of her.
I never expected to see a four-year-old in a tea house. Nor one as well behaved as Maeve. She chatted with the tea master, with her dad, and eventually with me.
She noticed the altar with it’s pretty colored stones. She picked up a smooth pink stone and asked the tea master, “What’s this?”
“Rose quartz,” she said, and then went on to explain some it’s qualities – how it symbolizes love and compassion and kindness. In that moment I knew I was where I was supposed to be. These were things I was not offering to myself lately, and I appreciated the reminder.
Maeve turned the stone over in her tiny hands. I remarked that it matched her outfit – Maeve was decked out in pink that day. Maeve then gave the stone to me. I rubbed my fingers over it’s surface, admired it’s color, and then gave it back to her to return to the altar.
Maeve next picked up a brown crystal. It looked like a 3-D tetris – blocks sticking up from its surface at different heights.
“What’s this?” she asked the tea master.
“I don’t know, but there’s a book over there about the crystals – you can look it up.”
After a little searching, Maeve found the book. She flipped through the first few pages, which were mostly words with an occasional picture. One picture was an old drawing depicting a bearded man from a long ago time.
“Look at him!” she said, turning the book around to show the rest of us.
Then, she flipped randomly to a page in the middle of the book. “There it is!” she exclaimed. Sure enough, there was a picture of the crystal she held in her hand.
This little girl was adorable. Her father mostly sat by her side and let her take center stage. But Maeve wasn’t there to show off – she was just being a four-year-old: curious, inquisitive. It was obvious she was comfortable talking to adults and making friends with anyone she met.
After Maeve and I had a few more rounds of tea, I told her I was going to leave now. “Well, you have to give me a kiss and a hug before you leave,” she said matter-of-factly.
So I kissed her cheek and wrapped my arms around her tiny little body. She hugged me gently and then said good bye.
As I sat outside the tent putting my shoes back on, I noticed a silver sequin in the dirt in front of me. I picked it up and placed it on toes of tiniest shoes sitting on the steps. I had no doubt Maeve would notice it – unlike me, she wasn’t rushing on to the next thing moving through life without stopping to notice the little things.
Sitting here two days later, I wonder why I left that tent when I did. There was no place I had to be. I loved the space I was in. That little girl made me smile and in those moments I was living in the present – in that serene, beautiful tent, sipping my tea, conversing with a four-year-old who, I’m sure, had a lot more to teach me.