Hot Tea in August

And so we find ourselves in August. For much of my life, August brought with it the feeling of summer dragging on and on and on. Perhaps only my fellow studious only-children can relate — I was often bored and lonely in August, anxious to return to the structure and (when I was older and had more friends) the social stimulation of the school year. Now, as an adult in the perpetual sunshine of Southern California, much of that meaning has faded from August. It arrives now more like the unexpected chortle of a cuckoo clock: “Oh, is it that time already? No kidding…I could have sworn it was only half-past.”

For the last few years, though, August has brought me an uncanny sense of longing. Not the general longing for nothing in particular that I experience pretty much all the time. No, this is a specific longing: to be in England.  

It’s pretty simple. In August of 2017, I spent about three weeks in England (Wells, Salisbury, and London, to be precise) singing in cathedrals with my choir. We rehearsed and sang six days a week and spent the rest of our time exploring, drinking local cider, and marveling at our general good fortune. The trip was my first time abroad in over a decade. If you’d like to read more about it, I wrote about the trip throughout the time we were there.

The body knows what time of year it is, even when the brain forgets. Just as late August continued to make me restless for years after my school days were over, when August of 2018 rolled around, I found myself daydreaming about the vast green fields and cream scones of the year before. I wanted to crawl up to the second floor of the Salisbury chain cafe (housed in a 400-year-old building) that I’d made my unofficial office for several days of one week of one year of my life. But that was not an option — reliving the past never is. So I settled for tea time. 

Every afternoon that August, I set an alarm for 4pm, at which point I stopped what I was doing to drink tea and eat some kind of dry baked good. It wasn’t something I’d done the previous year in Wells or London; it was just a small ritual I made up to honor — or at least acknowledge — my little Anglophilic longing. 

In 2019, the longing returned right on schedule. In response, I brought back the tea-time ritual.  I went on a major scone-making kick. I bought special sugars and made my own clotted cream in a slow oven. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable, even advisable idea. Take a short break, a deep breath.

And what of August 2020? Did I keep up my ritual in the wake of everything changing, of the entire year feeling like an only child’s endless August? I think I tried. But the year is such a blur, I can’t quite recall. I cross-referenced my trusty line-a-day diary but came up empty; after dutifully keeping tabs on the bulk of the Strangest Year, I stopped cold on July 30, 2020. That day, I wrote a whole page — 5 years worth of lines — on being awoken at 4:30am by an earthquake, and watching John Lewis’s memorial service. Then nothing more for weeks.

By this time last year, instead of trying to conjure memories of English August Past, I was already looking ahead to August of 2021. Our 2017 choir residencies had been such a great success that no sooner had we returned than we began planning the next one. On some days last year, daydreaming about that return trip was like spotting a distant crack of light in the darkness. 

I am, of course, not writing to you from England. Keep in mind, just six months ago, our choir was all unrehearsed and unvaccinated. A decision had to be made, and we put it to a vote. No one knew what was coming, many of us were in the midst of some huge life transitions, and many had spent a year with little to no income. So we decided to postpone our return for a couple more years. 

For months before the decision was made, I dreaded the possibility of this trip not going forward, not just because I wanted to go back and sing again, but because I feared that not going would mean that the state of the world had not changed. But I can honestly say, sitting at my own dining room table in August of 2021, I’m not sad to be stateside. The pandemic is not over, but things have certainly changed. For one thing, my perspective: I am happy that our fully vaccinated choir can sing together again1 after over a year apart, even if we have to do so in boring old Beverly Hills2. We didn’t forget how to read music, or blend. We didn’t even forget the words to the Chorister’s Prayer, which we used to recite before every service. 

Grant that what we sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts
And what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives

Next week, because I am not in England, I will be able to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary with a subset of my family — our first time together in person since my cousin’s wedding in late February 2020.  

And today, I sat down at this very table at a few minutes past four. I drank a cup of ginger lemon tea and ate one of the chocolate snickerdoodles that I made over the weekend. I even put it on a plate. It’s not as good as a trip to England. But, then again, the ritual ceased to be about England almost as soon as I made it up. The longing for something in the past made me want to do something nice for myself in the present. As far as nice somethings go, a hot cup of tea and a dry baked good on an August afternoon might not sound like much. But I heartily recommend them both.

1

We’re all vaccinated but currently back in masks. It’s fine. If you’re interested in hearing us, you can watch the services on the All Saints Beverly Hills website.

2

This is a joke. Beverly Hills is many things, but boring is not one of them.