Personal

This cup is already broken

This was my favorite mug.

A long time ago I worked in a museum’s gift shop. We sold works of local artists and for several weeks featured a talented local potter. I was taken with this fellow’s work for its bold color, especially four coffee mugs in this motif. I wanted them all, but could afford only one, and chose this one.

This mug was as much a pleasure to use as it was to behold. Its slender angled lip felt good on my lips. The thumbprint-sized indentation pressed into the top of the handle made it very comfortable to hold.

I’ve had very few possessions that satisfied me as much as this mug. I drank my coffee from it for 21 years, first at college, then in my first apartment, then at home after I was married, and finally at work. But sadly it was damaged when I moved it to my current job. Something must have struck the box it was in. When I fill it with coffee, a puddle quickly forms wherever I set it.

Buddhists have a saying: “This cup is already broken.” It’s meant to teach us that nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you have it. (The book of Ecclesiastes agrees, by the way, if you aren’t too keen on Buddhist teachings.) Enjoying what I have has been a recurring theme on this blog. For example, I’ve written before about how I was so focused on taking care of my first brand new car that it robbed me of some of the pleasure of driving it. I have struggled with this lesson all my life.

I grew up in a working-class family. We weren’t poor, but we earned every thing we owned, and little was handed to me. I saved to buy things I wanted, such as my bicycle and my first old cameras. Every purchase was dear because my money didn’t stretch very far. I was always very upset when something broke or wore out, because I would have to save for a long time to replace it. This shaped my attitude toward my possessions. I have tended to buy used or inexpensive things, because when they broke or wore out I could soothe myself by saying that I hadn’t lost much. When I have received especially nice or new things, I have tended not to want to use them.

After my grandfather died, I got his pocket knife. It was a gentleman’s knife, two small blades in a slender silver body. I left it in a dresser drawer for years, afraid to carry it lest I lose it. But I couldn’t very well enjoy my grandfather’s memory that way, and so one morning I finally slipped it into my pocket. When I got home that night, I found that it had fallen out somewhere along the way, and I never saw it again.

Stinging from the loss, I became even more parsimonious in using my possessions. At about this time I realized I drank more coffee at work than at home – and I resisted taking my mug to work for several years out of worry that it would more readily be lost, damaged, or stolen there.

And then I found it necessary to sell almost everything I owned. It’s an event I’ve mentioned before, but I’ve yet to find the courage to tell the whole story. In short, I kept furniture, clothes, and photographs, but most everything else went. It was not easy. But after it was all gone and I carried on with my life, I was surprised by how little of it I missed. Today, I occasionally wish for a couple old cameras I especially enjoyed and a few of my old record albums from my large collection that have never been released on CD. That’s it. I can’t even remember some of the things I owned. It was, I am stunned to have learned, just stuff.

That my mug escaped being sold was merely an oversight, but one I was glad to have made. As soon as I came across it, I took it right to work where I could enjoy it best. And sure enough, that’s where my mug met its demise. But I got to use it for seven years at work before that happened – and in that time, I figure I drank no fewer than 3,600 cups of coffee from it. I enjoyed it to the hilt!

And so I’ve been thinking about how to extend this idea. How will I behave differently if I think as though my kids are already grown and gone? As though I’ve already moved on from my current job? As though I’ve already remarried and left my single life behind?

What else can you think of?

Advertisements
Standard

18 thoughts on “This cup is already broken

  1. Adam says:

    …I think the people talking of fixing the mug are missing the point somehow. Great work jim many people never learn this lesson. i love hearing of stories like this

    Like

  2. Lone Primate says:

    I think I get this. :) When I changed jobs last time, the companies were in the same building, so I even kept parking in the same place. Now I’m working in a different part of the city… but I took the mug I was using at the last company with me. I don’t even know whose corporate logo is on it (chiselled white on glazed black), but it’s reasonably large and, like yours did, has a lip. I’m just really comfortable with it. Somebody brought it in, left it behind, and I just adopted it. So now it’s with me, moving forward. Someday, yeah, it’ll bust or someone will nick it off my desk. And when that happens, it’ll be the excuse to go out and find something new that suits me. Have you given any thought to mug shopping? Finding something cool, neat, comforting that’ll see you through to 2025…? :)

    Like

    • I have a small collection of corporate-logoed mugs in my drawer at work, but I’ve been using this bright yellow mug I picked up some years ago. It’s not Fiestaware, but it reminds me of it. I am sure that if I went out looking for the new mug I’d never find something that’s just right.

      Like

  3. juliedswearingen says:

    “And then I found it necessary to sell almost everything I owned. It’s an event I’ve mentioned before, but I’ve yet to find the courage to tell the whole story. In short, I kept furniture, clothes, and photographs, but most everything else went. It was not easy. But after it was all gone and I carried on with my life, I was surprised by how little of it I missed. Today, I occasionally wish for a couple old cameras I especially enjoyed and a few of my old record albums from my large collection that have never been released on CD. That’s it. I can’t even remember some of the things I owned. It was, I am stunned to have learned, just stuff.”
    Jim, I am finding myself at a crossroads of having too much stuff for my apartment, and for my sanity. Not that I expect you to have the answer to this, but what would your advice be about getting rid of extraneous items? I have started with clothes, and am working hard to not buy more, but I am stuck when it comes to other possessions. I have a tendency to hold on to books, school papers, old coffee mugs and dishes from relatives…well pretty much everything. And now I have plastic totes filled with these things cluttery up the corners of my very small apartment (although I believe my kittens enjoy this as they have turned these totes into a jungle-gym).
    Thanks, in advance, for any thoughts you have. –Julie Swearingen

    Like

    • Hi Julie. I don’t really have any advice! I got rid of things because I felt I had to, and so I just held my breath and got started. It was not easy. Had events not conspired, I’d still have all that stuff. I would never have learned, however, that I didn’t really need it.

      Like

  4. Rawbin says:

    My sister just told me that the cup is already broken. This came after a series of events. First beginning with going through my grandfathers things when we moved into his old house after his passing. We picked out trash first, that was easy. Then there was 99.9 years of stuff he’d collected and saved. We gave away his junk, and kept a lot of old cool stuff. Still the shelves were full. Then we moved our boxes of stuff into his library. We unpacked what we thought we needed/wanted, only to discover that we wanted very little of it. Then my husband moved out, leaving behind all his stuff, then he died, so all the stuff he bought to replace the stuff he left behind was brought back to the library. This final unpacking process has gone very slowly.
    Two days ago, we had an electrical fire. The library and much of it’s contents were gutted. Now the boxes of stuff lay out on the lawn, mixed with broken glass and mud. Other boxes seem to have lost the cardboard and are in a soggy blackened heap on the floor. And the orher other boxes of stuff have fallen through the floor.
    Now, a dumpster awaits our new sorting process which begins tomorrow.
    My thoughts on the broken cup is, give the cup away for someone else to use before it’s broken.

    Like

Share your comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.