The Empty Jug

my jug

The only difference between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one is the extraordinary pleasures you find in ordinary things. ~ Veronique Vienne.

I stood at the kitchen sink, robotically washing dishes. I paused, my gaze landing on a hand-painted jug on the window ledge, raindrops running down the glass. I clung to the sink with soapy hands, hunched forward, eyes clenched shut, terrified that I might miss another deadline, that I’d never have another moment of revelation, the inspiration that flows in and fills me up then spills over into my writing and my online coaching.

Washed out and weary, worried about money, unable to capture moments of fleeting inspiration as they flit and dance through my day, just out of reach, I stood, suds dripping, tears running down my face.

A quick wipe with the back of my hand, all traces gone, I picked up a tea towel and started to dry the dishes. Plates, bowls and jugs from our years in Greece and Portugal, all different sizes, shapes and designs. I looked again at the small jug on the window ledge. Cobalt blue and bottle green, ringed in bands of yellow and rusty red hearts. Sometimes I use it for flowers; most often, it stays empty, reminding me to be present, to stay open to inspiration and abundance. I looked down at the draining board and suddenly realised that not only do I have a lot of jugs, I seem to have been collecting and cherishing them all my life.

There’s a porcelain one from Portugal, hand-painted with deer and flowers which we only use for gravy on feast days and holidays. There’s a little pastel-coloured striped one with a flat bottom that’s used for milk when we have visitors; it’s the kind a sailor’s wife would keep on her window ledge, filled with snowdrops. A round-bellied classic white jug for water. A sturdy terracotta one decorated with a blue glaze and white slip. A spout-less pink tin cylinder for Greek retsina. An elegant, clear glass bottle with a gem-blue glass stopper that I use on warm days to keep water cold in the fridge.

Pencils in a chipped, speckled stoneware jug. A spider plant in a blue teapot. I rushed to the dining room and stared at what I now saw was a collection in my cabinet, in among all the other mismatched crockery. There, in pride of place, a single-setting tea service with sugar bowl and milk jug, painted decades ago by my mum’s elderly cousin, the artist who never married after her fiancé died in World War Two. We used to give my mum breakfast in bed every year on Mother’s Day, the tea tray laid with an embroidered cloth and those same dishes.

I remembered my grandmother pouring milk from a blue and white pitcher and friends’ birthday parties with ice cream and jelly and always large glass jugs of sparkling lemonade and orange juice. Always a woman somewhere, carrying a jug, offering something, pouring something.

All of my jugs are beautiful. Like us, they’re all unique and chosen, loved and special for something. They’re not meant to be permanently full; they’re designed to be filled and emptied as they pour. They’re beautiful just as they are, even when all they hold are memories and promise and a little bit of now.

I took the tea towel and lovingly dried and put away my crockery, went into the garden and found a few rain-drenched miniature daffodils and a spray of fragrant white hyacinth to put in my little heart jug at the window.

Sometimes we wait knowingly, patiently, for inspiration to fill us to overflowing. Sometimes, we simply need to love ourselves enough.

(This piece first appeared in my Coaching Moments column in 2009.)


  1. I’m still tickled at having three Janes comment in the same box!

    Thank you. I’ve always loved that quote, too. I find so many daily details beautiful. It makes a life.
    I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love how we can meet so many people in our lives, yet every single one is unique, special, hand crafted for their special purpose.
    You’re welcome!
    Thank you. There’s something very symbolic about jugs that really draws me. Any piece of beautiful yet functional crockery, really.

    1. @Jerri,
      Thanks! I’ve always written about the details I love, but since I got my new camera, I keep getting the urge to use my own photos as illustrations for my pieces.

    1. Belongings can inspire us in many ways. Most of mine have to earn their place in my home; if they’re not functional, they have to be beautiful or symbolise something important. My jugs tick all three boxes, but the piece was more about inspiration and how everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way.

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