A Toast to Life

In whatever country or culture we find ourselves, having a drink together is a sign of friendship, intimacy, and peace. Being thirsty is often not the main reason to drink. We drink to “break the ice,” to enter into a conversation, to show good intention, to express friendship and goodwill, to set the stage for a romantic moment, to be open, vulnerable, accessible. It is no surprise that people who are angry at us, or who come to accuse us or harass us, won’t accept a drink from us. They would rather say: “I will come straight to the point of my being here.” Refusing a drink is avoiding intimacy.

It seems that most of our drinking takes place in a context in which we feel, at least for the moment, at home with ourselves and safe with others. Drinking a cup of coffee to interrupt work for a moment, stopping for tea in the afternoon, having a “quick drink” before dinner, taking a glass of wine before going to bed — all these are moments to say to ourselves or others, “It is good to be alive in the midst of all that is going on, and I want to be reminded of that.”

–Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?

My morning ritual of making coffee is more than a caffeine kick in the butt. On days I don’t do it, I feel as though I’ve left something important out. It is the act of taking time that sets the tone for the day. In the afternoon I try to make time for tea — again, the pause and the ritual allow for reflecting, for shifting attention to the moment. One of my favorite ways to spend time with a friend is to meet for coffee. When I was a caseworker seeing clients at their homes, I always accepted an offer of refreshment. Sometimes it was a glass of water, soda, juice, or coffee. Once it was alcohol, but I demurred and requested water instead. As service providers we were “not supposed” to accept anything from clients, to avoid potential abuse and accusation of it, but in regard to this matter, intuition always prompted me to partake. Rejecting the offer seemed outright rude as well as detrimental to the therapeutic connection.

Think about the last time you shared a drink with someone, or with a group. Perhaps it was a happy hour with coworkers, or at a dinner with a special someone, or for a celebration such as a birthday. Consider the presence of drinking in your life (not just alcohol) and in your childhood. Did your family have certain rituals? Is there a custom that intrigues you? Perhaps it’s the British tea, or the Greek tradition of drinking Ouzo, or perhaps the general topic of the social and cultural aspects of drinking interests you. You might feel inspired to research various hospitality customs of different cultures. While much of what you might find is associated with alcohol, and while spirits may or may not have positive associations within your family life, the goal of this exercise is to consider the act of sharing beverages as an affirmation of life. That humans consist primarily of water and would die quickly from thirst before starvation suggests that beverages of all forms are a powerful presence in our lives.

If you journal, you might write about your customs, memories, and discoveries. If it’s been awhile since you shared refreshment with others, perhaps now is the time to pause and celebrate life.

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