Shall I put on the kettle? Would you like a cuppa?
Can there be any more welcoming and comforting words?
An invitation to company, to companionship.
An invitation to stop, to have a chat.
An invitation to sort out the world.
Sitting around the kitchen table, nursing cups of tea.
A story shared, a listening ear.
Laughter, tears, silence shared.
Shall I put on the kettle?
Yes please, let’s have a cuppa!
Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not the only one, that someone else is going through a similar experience. Even if you have never met them (and not likely ever will), but only heard their story on the radio. That’s what happened to me a few days ago.
I was listening to one of my favourites, Outlook on the BBC World Service. On Wednesday, 6 February 2013, it featured an interview with Susannah Cahalan, who a few years ago was struck down by a terrifying and for a while mysterious illness. She was eventually diagnosed with “Anti-NMDA-Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis”.
The whole interview was fascinating but the moment of connection came at the very end.
Thankfully, I have never had to suffer anything as awful as Susannah’s condition. But I have in the past suffered from a different autoimmune illness (Myasthenia Gravis). Like Susannah’s condition, we don’t really know what triggers is. After talking through her experience of illness and recovery, the interviewer asked:
I was just wondering if you get nervous that it might be starting again? […] For you that must be “oh my goodness, is that a warning sign?”.
Susannah then describes moments when something slightly strange happens (in her case, a light might look brighter than usual) and she instantly wonders if that is because her illness is returning. Which happens to me on a regular basis as well. These days, I normally never think about being ill. But it doesn’t take much, and the fear rises to the surface.
Two’s company. And sometimes that is nice to have.
(photo: Huang Qingjun)
The content of a home. What stories does it tell? About the people. About their lives. About the country and society they live in.
Some of it seems so incongruous. A mud house and a satellite dish. Only the very basics and yet a television.
Part of me really wants to climb into the picture, to meet the people, to hear the real stories. Understand the constraints (financial and therwise) on their lives. Ask them what it is that makes their house a real home for them.
So much I would love to know. Why are there no books? Is that telephone maybe the only link to family far away? What are the precious things, the things that hold special memories, the things that make them smile? How does the rapid economic development in China affect them – and bypass them?
So many stories I would love to hear!
(I recently re-discovered this article which talks about a project by Chinese artist Huang Qingjun, described in the article like this: “Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him.”)
Heathrow Terminal 5. One last look around WH Smith. Anything I’ve forgotten to buy? What can I not get back in Berlin? Cadbury’s Dairy Milk are on special. Definitely need to get some of those!
And then on to the gate, waiting to return to my other life. A week of wonderful times with friends, of visiting old haunts, of reliving my old life, comes to an end. Another world awaits me.
Flying alone can be hard. And boring, but that’s not the point. It’s more the sense of completely leaving behind a very special week, because no one can share those memories with me. This is how someone else expressed this dynamic:
One friend wrote that the hardest part for her is flying alone. Not because I don’t have the ability or because I’m afraid, but because it highlights the fact that no matter where I go, there is no person that is consistent in my life. Sitting at an airport gate by yourself can be lonely for anyone. However, I agree with my friend. When you’re a single missionary, it’s a deeper loneliness than simply not having someone to chat with while you wait for your flight. It’s the knowledge that you are leaving one “home” for your other “home,” and no one is making this transition with you. Your two “lives” are consistent, but you are the only one who lives them both.
Today, I am feeling this a lot.