When I arrived at the train station last Monday morning I was greeted by volunteers from the Samaritans handing out tea bags to commuters (I’ve still got in a cupboard the one I was given last year!).
It was the day of the year on which people are said to be most likely to be depressed. It’s the third full week back at work after Christmas, it’s still dark in the morning, and credit card bills are coming through (and, yes, the flip side of getting paid earlier in December is that the money runs out sooner in January!). I was actually feeling pretty up-beat that day. I was relishing the cold, frosty snap we were having; and was glad to be back into the routine of work following my usual start of the year inertia. The previous Monday had been my personal low-point, and as I’d sat on the train that dark, grey, gloomy morning asking myself what the point of it all was I’d assumed that must be the ‘most depressed’ day and wondered why the Samaritans hadn’t given us a tea bag this year! I’m fortunate that I’ve never experienced deep depression but each year the beginning of January is a bit of a struggle. I cling on to the knowledge that I’ve been there before and somehow I made it through in one piece.
The point of the tea bag, according to the Samaritans, is that it’s good to talk to someone. But let’s face it, for some people that’s easier said than done. For myself, I realise that following the excesses of the Christmas period I crave time on my own to just be still and to rest and to hibernate. I was lucky to be able to leave the office on a couple of occasions and go off to cafes in Camden where I got on quietly with my work on my laptop, whilst having a very nice cup of tea.
When in Dublin I sometimes enjoy the warm hospitality of the Mercy sisters in Baggot Street in the house where Catherine McAuley founded the order in the 19th Century (and one of the members of which is our lovely Sr Moira who, I’m proud to say, was named Irish in Britain Volunteer of the Year for 2019). I’m always struck by Catherine’s last words to her sisters as she lay dying: “Be sure you have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.” Ever since, the comfortable cup of tea has been a symbol of the warm and caring relationships which were at the heart of Catherine McAuley’s Mercy vision.
Whenever we have a visitor at the Irish Chaplaincy the first question they are usually asked is ‘would you like a cup of tea’. There is barely an hour goes by at the Chaplaincy without someone putting the kettle on (not to mention Gerry appearing at the door with his offer of chunky chocolate cookies, and Liz and Breda their pastries, and Fiona her mini muffins, and Pat her leftover cakes, and Paul his Friday bars of chocolate…it’s not a huge hardship to work in that office!).
Another of the perks of my job (apart from unlimited tea and sweet things) is getting invited to some very special events at the Embassy of Ireland. I was there twice in this past week, the second time for the celebration of 25 years of Treskellion Theatre, founded by another of our wonderful Irish Chaplaincy volunteers, Gerry Molumby. I was excited to see in the reception area Eilish and eleven of her talented young musicians from the London Celtic Youth Orchestra. I got chatting to a couple of London Irish ladies, one of whom commented “they make a great noise, don’t they”. I handed them a flyer for our St Bridig’s concert and said “just wait till you hear 43 of them next week, and with their 4 harps and their dancers”! And talking of Irish dancing, we had the incredible pleasure later on of seeing (and hearing- what a wonderful noise his shoes made on the wooden floor) world title-winning Joe McGowan in action.
A couple of weeks ago I’d been invited to speak at a couple of masses at a church in London. I’d been asked to share about the experience of going on retreat, and I also planned to talk about the work of the Chaplaincy. I encouraged people to find places of stillness in their daily and weekly lives, whether it be going into the local park for 10 minutes to look at the trees and listen to the birds, or getting up half an hour earlier in the morning to sit quietly in a favourite armchair with a cup of tea. I realised that I needed to follow my own advice and so got into just such a routine each day, sitting in the early morning darkness in a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea.
When spending a year in Seoul with my family from 1999-2000 my regular retreat day was a monthly 24 hours spent with the Columbans, a great and highly entertaining bunch of, mainly, Irish missionary priests. It was a bit of an oasis for me, with back issues of the Irish Times in the garden room and REAL tea! I would arrive there fairly exhausted from the demands of three young children, teaching English 6 days a week and generally being in an unfamiliar place (rich as that experience is) and one of the guys Pat Muldoon, who was especially good to me, said on every visit “be nice to yourself”.
I think that’s ultimately the message of the Samaritans when giving out their tea bags on the third Monday back at work after Christmas; or our fantastic people at the Irish Chaplaincy, whether out on their pastoral visits or when putting on the kettle and dishing out little treats: let’s be kind to one another.