The Prune: Don’t let a virus sever needed connection with friends

Matés are a South American tea-like drink which is shared with another person in a dried gourd with a silver straw. submitted photo

by Todd Sharp

I really can’t remember losing my grip on the most important part of my day. The communal break; the coffee break, hanging at the water cooler, a spot of tea, meet you for a beer after work.

Sharing conversation, story and empathy with another person through ritual, custom and beverage seems to have enlivened my life in so many ways. The serendipity of discovering new friends at a coffee shop. Listening to a person’s perspective on a new adventure. Never hearing the same old story because a new perspective can always shine fresh light on a previously held idea, bringing a new thought freshly into vision and focus.

Maté or yerba Maté is a South American tea-like drink which should be shared with another person in a dried gourd with a silver straw. A maté. I think the two words are meant to share the same entomology. I’m not sure and don’t care to research it. I’ll go on the assumption they are meant to be connected. Like two people sharing the drink.

A couple scoops of maté in the gourd and hot water over the top. Let it steep and sip it from the naturally sterling silver straw. When you finish your small gourds full of water, you refill the hot water from the thermos and pass it to your mate. This goes back and forth with the conversation until the thermos is empty and you go on with the day.

Ritual of politeness, conversation, sharing. Communication, taking turns, respecting and serving your friendship. Taking time to slow down, enjoying each other’s company.

These rituals transcend cultures. Northern Europeans, Sweden, Norwegians, Fins have an equally delightful Fika, a culturally dedicated break in mid-afternoon to share a small treat with a warm drink, traditionally a coffee and cardamom or cinnamon roll with a friend, coworker or new acquaintance. The ritual is deeply ingrained in the culture and made an essential part of the day for all workers. They need to take a break to make a human connection, re-energize and set priority.

There have been various times in my life, spiritually uplifting and hearty growth spurts where I have shared in these daily rituals.

It started in North Carolina while having dinner with a close friend who one time lived as an American in Japan. His father was the Consulate General of Japan at the same time George H. Bush was the Consulate General of China. My friend used to hang out with Jeb and George W. Bush while their fathers shared stories and, I assume, ritual.

He taught me the importance of the Japanese custom of never letting your dining partner pour their own drinks or run dry. Granted this led to many nights consuming too much Sake and Scotch, but this gentle and empathetic custom taught me something very important about conversation. Not only do you have to pay close attention to what the person is saying but you need to be very aware of their comfort and well being while listening and sharing stories.

As we have entered a new turn in the world, where a drink at a bar, a cup of coffee or a birthday treat at work are all but impossible, we need to create new rituals for daily connections to enrich our lives. To truly hear the stories, empathizing and respecting options, making the comfort and well being of each other a top priority. The same is if you’re sitting next to each other filling their gourd with maté or fresh ideas.

I used to think, as we turned down our faces into the screen of our phones, we were turning up our noses to the possibility of real human interaction. Now the reality of human connection is safer through our devices or standing 6-feet away with a mask covering our smiles.

Phone calls, video chat, Zoom meetings, emails and text messages are how we can transcend our situation.

Adding serendipity and chance meetings into our personal contacts is going to propel us to leave the comfort zone of following the breezy path of our current connections and silos of thought.

Plan a video “Fika’’ with a loved one, enjoy a gourd of maté Zoom, pour a stiff drink and phone a friend for a virtual cocktail hour. Time to learn something new and hopefully start a growth spurt.

Editor’s note: When not drinking matés, Todd Sharp sells advertising for the Green Laker, Express and The Ripon Commonwealth Press.