With a smile, my friend's husband presses a steaming mug of tea into my hands. "You are the best," I say. I've been looking forward to this moment for at least 200 miles. For a few seconds I cradle the mug, savoring the way warmth travels through the pottery, into my fingertips, down into my soul. My friend asks what I want to do tomorrow. I lift the mug to my lips, gathering thoughts.
In the silence between sentences there's a strange little crunching sound, and suddenly I'm burning. Scalding tea is everywhere—drenching my hands, spattering my arms, filling my lap, soaking the chair. I yelp and leap to my feet. In one bleeding hand I hold the mug's handle; in the other, I'm struggling to balance the now half-empty mug. My friend and her husband come running, our daughters come running. The next moments are a blur of shrieks and towels, Band-aids and blood. When pain stops and chaos settles, we register what happened: The handle separated from the mug, sending tea flying and pottery shards digging into my hand.
Eventually, when we realize that there's more blood than actual injury, that my thick winter clothes have protected me from true burns, and that my friend's forethought in stain-protecting her new loveseat has kept the furniture from total ruin, we dissolve into relieved and shaky laughter.
I change clothes, we clean up, and after a while we are back where we started, settling in to chat on the couches. My friend's husband brews a fresh cup of tea and holds it out to me. For a heartbeat I hesitate—a hitch of anxiety stops my breath—and I slowly reach out to take the mug. As my friend launches into a story, I find myself holding the mug tighter than I should be, pressing it hard with both hands. I cast nervous glances at the handle, studying its width, weighing its strength. In spite of the rational voice in my head insisting, "This is so stupid, hold the dang handle," I can't bring myself to let go and hold the mug by the handle.
The next morning, my friend offers me coffee. Coffee, beloved coffee, sweet nectar of life. She pours me a cup and holds out the mug. A fluttering starts in my gut, and I find myself swallowing hard as I reach for the mug with my still-bandaged hand. She looks at me funny. "Are you okay?"
I nod my head yes. Shake my head no. Set the mug down. Confess with a laugh, "I'm afraid to pick up the mug!"
My friend laughs, then looks slightly wounded. "You don't trust my mugs anymore."
"Not just your mugs," I say with a guilty grin. "Mugs in general."
She assures me that the mug in question has been a reliable vessel for coffee and tea for many years and is worthy of my full trust. She holds it herself, waves it around to prove it. We laugh, I pretend to feel better, and I pick up the cup, hoping she doesn't notice that I'm using two hands, unwilling to risk the handle.
Several days later I return home—home to my own coffee pot, my own familiar mugs, dear companions who have faithfully served me coffee and tea during countless prayer times, phone calls, and writing sessions. But even so, when I pour my first cup of coffee into my favorite mug, the "Our nest is blessed" bird mug my mom gave me, I find myself staring it down with eyes narrowed, suspicion rising: Are you going to fail me too? Are you hiding some unseen crack, some weakness in construction? We've lived a lot of life together, shared a lot of coffee and good memories, but now...I've been burned. I've changed—have you changed too?