There’s nothing in the world like a newborn.
Each baby attests to the astounding miracle of life! And reminds us how this most vulnerable of beings is yet tenacious—and infinitely precious.
Which means that when I read about left-behind children awhile ago, I found the account both incredibly sad and beautifully encouraging.
Left-behind children—children left with their grandparents while their parents move elsewhere to work—is an unfortunate consequence when there are no jobs in the area where a family is living. I can’t imagine ever leaving my child behind, no matter how loving the grandparents. Nor can I imagine how heartbreaking such decisions must be for parents, grandparents, and children alike.
The China Daily had an interesting feature on left-behind children who live in Weishan, a town in mountainous Hunan province. Although Hunan is one of the country’s top tea-growing regions, there are few jobs in Weishan, forcing many parents to relocate elsewhere.
Many children, of course, suffer, and some have little opportunity to form meaningful or close relationships with their own parents. Whether to directly address this or whether it was just happenstance, in 2012 the local school began to offer extracurricular activities, including a tea art, or tea ceremony, class.
One student, now 19, took this class when she was a 6th grader, saying:
In Weishan, almost every household grows tea, but we know little about the traditional tea culture, . . . Through the tea class, however, I learned a lot.
Interesting that tea is part of the fabric of their lives and yet the tea ceremony is not. So is the ritual surrounding tea no longer pertinent to today’s society and has it become largely irrelevant?
Turns out that it wasn’t simply knowledge that the children absorbed when they learned the steps to making tea and taking care of tea ware.
The student continued:
In retrospect, I feel the tea art classes helped me calm my mind, manage my emotions and I began to communicate more with my parents because of the interesting classes.
School principal, Yang Jinpeng, noted that through such classes, children not only learn but they grow more “confident” and “optimistic.” The classes also aim to help the children develop stronger relationships with others.
Children are resilient and tenacious, but they are simultaneously vulnerable, as we all are, particularly when stressed. I’ve often written about the benefits that the tea plant itself offers, but also how even holding a hot beverage changes our outlook, and how important ritual is to our psyche.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of such truths. Or perhaps we need to learn for ourselves how ritual can be grounding and calming.
It seems like such a simple thing, but often we don’t realize the importance of the small acts, habits, and expectations that are woven into our lives. It wouldn’t seem that simply learning the art of making tea could impact a child’s life all that much, but knowledge and practice and mastery of ancient customs can better equip us for life by teaching us focus and mindfulness. For children, such skills may help them cope with the trauma of being “left behind.”
Chinese physician Hua Tuo (140–208 CE) believed that “tea made people optimistic” (Barnes 2014), and Kaisen Iguchi (referring to the Japanese ceremony) points out that the “way of tea” teaches us how to conduct ourselves in everyday life, including how to give and receive care and concern.
It’s incredibly gratifying to see a school and community care for its children, as demonstrated in Weishan. So as we continue through the current maelstrom—as we are surrounded by uncertainty and loss, by hardship and lack of human contact, by fear and sorrow—remember to stay grounded. And calm. And kind and caring. To ourselves, to others.
And don’t discount the tangible and intangible comfort that a cup of tea and its attendant ceremony may bring. To us as well as to our children.
–Barnes, L. E., High Tea: Glorious Manifestations East and West, Norton Museum of Art, W. Palm Beach, FL, 2014.
–China Daily, “Tea art classes a tonic for left-behind children,” 8/6/2020.
–Iguchi, K., Tea Ceremony, 3rd ed., Hoikusha Publishing, Japan, 1977.