My youngest’s favorite book last year was discovered through Reading Rainbow. A Three Hat Day told the story of a man who, having lost his parents, filled his days collecting hats. Some sad days he wore two hats. But, then came a day so dreary and impossible, he layered three hats, one on top of the other. To cheer himself up, he walks to a hat shop, the only place he can find solace. Once inside, he puts more hats on, only to be shamed by the annoyed shopkeeper for disrespecting the hats. He just can’t win.
One morning, my youngest son woke me at 3 am with a nightmare. Then, as sometimes happens, I didn’t get back to sleep until the sun rose. Working to hold back the anxiety and tasks that feel heavier on days like this, I faced the full morning of home educating and then felt the weight of trying to paint in the afternoon. You all know those days. A hard and heavy way to function, sleep deprived. My oldest calls it painful. I think he’s right, the slow pain of hungering for sleep when it feels like night will never come.
I poured a cup of green Lanxi tea, each leaf picked and rolled by hand. When you activate the leaves in nearly boiling water, they unfurl and fill the strainer like an expanding vine. I only use green tea on days like this, days when my boys have interrupted my sleep. And I knew, just like the hat man, I’d need another.
In the afternoon, I successfully waged battle against the Jabberwokies of a commissioned painting gone missing in the mail, the re-stocking, the unpacked boxes, the stories to create on Instagram, all fought and held at bay. I don’t engage on social when I am this sleep deprived. It feeds the anxiety that I’m not enough. And I know I can face exhaustion, but not when other voices drive out my own.
I know I’ve fought the battles successfully when I shut the door of my art studio. If I can just avoid the emails and social media alerts to simply tap “play” on my Opera mix and get my brushes wet. Opera is my choice on days like this. I like to listen to music where the artists are working as hard as I am. The battle to protect this time is over, painting has begun. I pull up my reference photo and spray water on my paints, activating them into liquid pools.
I sipped my second cup, this time a Thai Rooibos, the lemongrass and coconut, ginger and cinnamon swirling in heat against my tongue. And I began to paint the first wash.
A good friend once told me that she loved seeing my collection of herbal and black teas. “Tea is your place of comfort,” she observed. “And you make time for it and share it.” So when that friend stopped by with her daughter on this particularly trying afternoon, I announced that we were having another cup. And so we poured cups of tea all around.
A three cup day.
A Three Hat Day ends with the hat man finding a woman wearing a perfect hat. Not perfect to you or me probably; it had a sequin seal balancing a shining ball on one side, but perfect to the hat man. She sees him, really sees the fellow under the hats, understands precisely why he is wearing three and calls him “A lover of hats.” So, what looks ridiculous to the shop owner finds a home with this lady. The story concludes when the hat man clears his throat.
“Shall we go for a walk?” he asked softly . . . and he held out his hand.
All friendships, even those that end in marriage, begin when we share our favorite places to be ourselves. You cannot have a good friendship with someone who doesn’t know your hobbies and why you spend so much time there. You can be good roommates, perhaps, you can coordinate when to pick up the kids and go on vacation. But that is not friendship. The difference between a friend and a roommate turns on knowledge. With a friend I can be truly different and still more loved. With a roommate we are different and tolerated, not necessarily more deeply known. And most marriages, about 20 years in, are closer to roommates than friends.
My closest friends know I love tea, my husband most of all. But in public this isn’t common knowledge. In fact the most precious things about me I don’t share on Facebook. On social sites, I hide most of my best thoughts and deepest loves. Not because I’m naturally shy or even suspicious, but because I know there are thousands of people and bots, who don’t know me, who record everything we type on FB or IG, to catalog and market to us. And friendship is too precious and difficult for me to conduct in front of a thousand eyes. I won’t parade my loves in front of algorithms taking note. I won’t explain at length my journey into health in front of shopkeepers. So friends of mine will have noticed, we may start a conversation on social media, but if it becomes interesting or beautiful, I’ll move it over to texting, preferable a private source like Signal. I know it’s not easy, but neither is friendship.
I know my limitations, I will not be as courageous as I should be in front of 100 or 10 as I will in front of one. Privacy is the place we grow courage. Marketers, trollers, stalkers and annoyed shopkeepers keep us afraid to be anything less than sparkly in public. We even learn to sparkle about our failures. And, friendship isn’t for an audience to watch and rate.
I want to extend this same hospitality to my nearest and dearest. I want my friends to be welcome to wear their sequin seal hat over to my house. But to find and encourage those courageous souls, we need all the courage we can muster. Have you tried it recently? Share these hobbies and preferences and joys with your dearest friends, share the ones that they don’t know about, and those who are true friends will listen carefully.
For haven’t you noticed? Courage is a delicate flower. Courage, if we are to keep it intact, requires privacy to grow. It’s not an option. We cannot go waltzing through most of life wearing three hats, not without a lot of practice enduring the stares and snickers. Much as I like to imagine a more open-hearted world, we need privacy to start to become our real selves. We need the friends who want to see us in three hats, the friends who want to share three cups of tea. Courage grows from the nutrients of those private places.
And while it seems trivial, our hobbies are some of the few places left where average humans are still courageous. Guard your small places of genuine pleasure for from these little cups of tea springs your life.