Sweet Peas, Sour-Sweet Tea, and a Search for Metaphors.


I had brewed the perfect cup of afternoon herbal tea (tisane, not true tea) until it reached a rich, golden brown. I sometimes like to mix two kinds, for more flavor and body. This time it was plain rooibos, a full-bodied but smooth, neutral tasting south African tea, blended with crisp, refreshing peppermint.

I picked up the cup for my first sip, ready to savor it, and instead made a face. What was this? It turned out I hadn’t checked the wrapper carefully, and the second teabag was not crisp, cool peppermint, but sour-sweet honey-lemon. I like honey-lemon. It also mixes well with rooibos. But it was startlingly different from what I was expecting.

The second sip was a much better experience, because I had changed my expectations. I was then prepared to enjoy something equally good, but different than what I’d planned, and I enjoyed each sip more than the last, because I’d happily adjusted to the change. A trade of one good thing for a different good thing.

The point here is that the tea was the same as it was my first sip, but now I knew what to expect. What changed was my perspective.

As a poet, I’m always trying to turn even mundane experiences into metaphors and life lessons.

This one isn’t too complex or deep, but its also not too difficult too make the connection. Sometimes we perceive something as positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, not by its real properties, but by our expectations. But as long as the unexpected thing is harmless and good in itself, or can be turned into a positive, we can improve our experience by changing our expectations and perceptions.

In short, we can often adjust to the change and enjoy what is, even if it wasn’t what we’d planned on.

I thoroughly enjoyed that cup of honey-lemon tea, once I knew what I was drinking, just as I thoroughly enjoyed the cup of peppermint tea I sipped on while writing this.

I also enjoyed three unexpected, extended conversations on my walk today, which threw my schedule at least an hour behind, but which I still found worthwhile. Since my goals and time-frame for today were flexible enough to accommodate the adjustment, I allowed myself to enjoy and benefit from — and perhaps benefit others — from the encouragement exchanged.

While I had only planned a quick, solitary walk before starting the rest of my day, I found myself changing my plans and expectations when something equally beneficial, though unexpected, presented itself.


Now this second story seemed interesting enough to write about, but it was significantly harder to extract a metaphor, or any kind of meaning from it. Still I felt like I had to try.

The other day, when at my favorite local produce stand, I decided to splurge on a bouquet of sweet-smelling sweet-pea flowers. They were a mix of dark and light purple, my favorite colors, with a compatible blend of cream colored blooms, and a small splash of pale pink. Though the purples were my favorite, the whole mix was harmonious and attractive.

But later I noticed one sprig of red that stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. The red flower was perfectly appealing on its own but just didn’t seem to go with the other more mellow colors. I tried to adjust my eye – o.k., my expectations again – but I still found that bit of incongruous red slightly jarring.

My solution? I took out the red sprig and put it in its own container. This resulted in two flower arrangements to enjoy, and a calmer, more appealing mix of flowers in the larger bouquet. It was simply a matter of taste. Mine apparently didn’t match that of the person who arranged the bouquet, or possibly not much thought was put into the choices.

But I put the one sprig of red blooms in a white cup off by itself and enjoyed both it, and the purple and white blend, separately.

So what does this mean? Maybe there is truly no deeper meaning here, but I felt the need to look for one. In my poet’s mind, if it’s worth mentioning, it’s probably worth making into a metaphor. Maybe all it means is I love flowers and wanted to talk about them.

Let me just be clear here. This has nothing to do with segregation, or ugly, hidden agenda like that. It was really just a matter of aesthetics, and customizing something to my taste.

I think that’s the main idea. If the way something comes ready-made doesn’t work for me, then I try to customize it to my personality and strengths. That’s my approach to a lot of areas of life. I just wish more of them were as easy as this one.

It’s also about how if something, or someone, doesn’t shine in a particular group, they may be placed to better advantage somewhere else, where they fit. I could go on with endless examples of this in the human sphere, but that really isn’t the focus of this post. So I’ll just give one idea.

I don’t like crowds, or large parties, or sports events, or anything large and loud. So rather than try to force myself to fit in to something like that, I’ll be much happier, more in my element, like the red flower in its own white cup, if I stay home to read and listen to soft music, or visit with one or two close friends. Why would I even try to fit where I’m not happy or at my best advantage?

Now the one flower idea led me of course to a particular Van Gogh painting I’ve thought a lot about. There’s a field of purple irises (both my favorite color and one of my favorite flowers). But in this field there’s one white iris.

It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the others, nor is it any less beautiful. In fact I’ve often identified with that one white iris, as I imagine Van Gogh did himself. There is a combination of distinction – different talents and traits that have their own, even special merit – and the pain of being different. A genius like Van Gogh, or anyone creative, doesn’t usually blend in with the group, but stands out.

So it’s a distinction that has nothing wrong in it, and certainly some positives. But there’s also an element of loneliness in it. It can be both wonderful and difficult to stand out as one-of-a-kind in a group that is otherwise all the same.

So how does this fit with my one red flower? I have no clue. The distinctions are not the same, but just reminded me of each other anyway. But I found that in this case the red flower did better in its own element, standing out without the clash it caused among the mellower colors.

In most cases, of course, variety is wonderful. But sometimes, finding a better fit makes sense.

I don’t think I’m much closer to a meaningful metaphor here, so I’ll just say this: in some situations, changing our expectations — like with the tea – helps us enjoy something different or unexpected. In other cases, changing something so it works better for us is the way to go. But just because I took the red flower out of the bouquet doesn’t mean I enjoyed, or valued it, any less.

And flowers of any color, and hot tea of nearly any flavor, are almost always a good thing. But sometimes you’re in the mood for sour, sometimes sweet, sometimes refreshing. Sometimes bright colors, sometimes muted ones, and in my case always, always, purple.

Make of it all what you will.