The Finer Things

And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 8:15

The cup was ivory and rimmed in platinum. Its handle, angular and delicate. The saucer was scalloped. I poured my tea into the cup and gingerly carried it to the table. I remembered the day Mike and I registered for our wedding. We walked through the store, pointing the scanner at everything from bath towels to casserole dishes. That day was one of the best days ever. We had no idea what we were doing. Thankfully the attendant was kind enough to walk us through the department store, suggesting items we might want to include. When we stumbled into the china section, we were at a complete loss.

We needed help, but we decided on the pattern pretty quickly. Among the flowery and busy designs, this one stood out because of its simplicity. It was definitely “us”. It was also one of the more inexpensive patterns too. We were sold. We pointed our scanner and marked off the china box on our registry list. We were blessed to receive all the basic pieces – dinner plates, salad plates, bread plates, tea cups and saucers, platters, even the wine and champagne glasses – from our friends and family. Service for 8.

At the time, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment. We didn’t have anywhere to properly store the china, so it remained in our spare bedroom closet in the boxes in which it was delivered. When we moved to a new home in Pennsylvania three years later, we were able to unbox and display all the pieces in a glass cabinet in our kitchen. We have used the champagne and wine glasses, but outside of an occasional cleaning, the rest of the china remained in the cabinet. We will be married for twenty years this September.

When our microwave stopped working, we had to remove the china from the cabinet to install the new one. My husband carefully handed me the plates and cups and glasses, and I placed them on the dining room table for safekeeping. They looked so pretty spread out across the table, the light reflecting off the platinum rims. It was a shame they had been tucked away for so long. There were many reasons, or excuses, the china had never been used.

It was just the two of us. We couldn’t use those plates around the kids. I was going to get the china plates down but I didn’t have time. We can just use our everyday plates. Maybe next Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Or Easter.

As I looked at those beautiful plates, dust dulling their sparkle, I felt a little sad. I remembered that day in the department store, thinking, “Are we really old enough, and soon-to-be married enough, to have a china pattern?”. As a young couple, we still ate dinner on the couch in front of the television most nights. We often had takeout alone when I had a late meeting, or Mike had a softball game. When we did eat at the table, it was on our everyday plates that went into the dishwasher quickly so we could squeeze in our favorite television show before bed.

These platinum-rimmed plates represented something different. I pictured romantic dinners with candles, fancy meals, and beautiful table settings. I imagined family dinners with piping hot bread, heaping bowls passed around, and perfectly mannered children (Ha!).

That china was so much more than something that grown-ups put on a wedding registry. It was our future. Our happily ever after. And for almost twenty years, it sat in a box or cabinet. No fancy tables for two. No family dinners. Just a bunch of pretty plates, and cups and saucers on display.

Collecting dust.

Not anymore. I drank my tea from that ivory cup with the platinum rim and the delicate angular handle. Those dinners came to mind again. I designed a romantic table settling, with candles and pretty linens. I would plan a nice dinner for Mike at home. I looked forward to Thanksgiving, picturing our family favorites on those beautiful plates. I dreamed and planned, and held that cup in my hands. My morning routine seemed a special occasion. My tea tasted better.

It did make me a little nervous, though. The cup was so pretty, so delicate. I laughed to myself, thinking of how I waited twenty years for that cup of tea. I held onto it tightly, and was careful not to set it too close to the table’s edge. The cup and saucer were fragile and beautiful all at once.

Like life. Precious, and wonderful, but with one slip of the hand … gone.

Shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor.

Living with the uncertainty of cancer, I saw beauty in everything – the sky, the clouds, the flowers, and the trees. The way the light beamed through the windows in the morning. The way my daughter’s laugh carried across the room. The way my son hid his smile before it grew, covering his face. I waited for sunrises and chased after sunsets. I watched for the first star to twinkle in the night sky.

Living with the unforgiving nature of cancer, I also saw the fragility of it all. What was here today was gone tomorrow. The joyful moments, even love, and trust. Relationships. All delicate in their own ways. A slip of the hand. A slip of the tongue. A broken teacup. A broken heart. The blue sky hung overhead, and the earth crumbled under foot. Life was ours for the taking, but only while the taking was ours. There was so much beauty, we needed both hands. Beautiful things need not be packed away. They served no purpose if kept out of reach. Held in the hands for a moment, beauty and life slipped through our fingers the next.

So, today I sipped my tea from the fancy ivory cup with the platinum rim. I felt its warmth and its soothing in my soul. I let the joy fill my heart and urged my heart to hold on tightly. For one day, the cup would slip from my hands. Though shattered and in pieces, I would suffer no regret.

For even but a moment, I held beauty in my hands. I knew the joy in the sunshine, the happiness in the clouds. I knew the music in the raindrops, and the peace found in God’s Word.

For even when gone, how blessed I was to know the finer things.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

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