Start with an Empty Cup

Patricia Grady Cox

January 2020

Empty Cup

We’ve all heard the question, “Is your cup half empty or half full?” It’s supposed to point out how being optimistic can change the way you perceive reality. But last night, on New Year’s Eve, while my dog was going nuts barking, growling, whining, and running around while the firecrackers and cherry bombs exploded in the street, I had a different thought.

What if the cup were empty?

Because this refrain has been in my head since March 2019:

“Start with an empty cup.”

I don’t usually share personal stuff. I usually write about history or market my books or announce appearances at book festivals. But this is going to get personal. And might seem a little sad, but hang in with me.

Last March I lost my sister to ovarian cancer.

I was lucky enough to be able to go back east and stay with her the last few weeks of her life. There was much that was sad about it, but also much that was nice. My brother came down from Vermont on the weekends. We talked a lot. Laughed a lot. Drank a lot.

Towards the very end of my sister’s life, when she was pretty loopy on oxycontin and tranquilizers (on top of the already noticeable “chemo brain”), she decided that we needed to learn how to make the blended Instant Breakfast that she was drinking twice a day. So that night we all trooped into the kitchen to be instructed.

“You start with an empty cup,” she said. But the next step wouldn’t come to her. She’d tell us to wait, she’d take a deep breath, and she’d start again. “You start with an empty cup.” I don’t know how many times we started over with the empty cup, but we ended up standing in the kitchen laughing. The three of us laughing.

So last night I thought: what if we always start with an empty cup? What if, instead of half full, the cup is empty?

What if every morning you start with an empty cup? You could decide how you wanted to fill it. What kind of day do you want to have? Your cup is empty. There are no unfinished items from yesterday in it, no mistakes or misunderstandings or regrets overflowing the brim. It’s empty.

Fill it up.

What if every time you become angry or frustrated or paralyzed with fear or grief, you dump it all out and start with an empty cup?

What if every time you must decide what to eat, you start with an empty cup? Do you fill it with healthy choices? Or with junk food and sugar?

What if every time you’re faced with a problem—in your life, your relationships, or your newest novel—you start with an empty cup? No preconceived notions, no automatic responses, no doing what you did in the past or the first thing that comes to mind. None of that stuff is in the cup. It’s empty.

You start with an empty cup.

Happy New Year!


  1. Dick Aldrich · · Reply

    Beautiful message Pat. Let’s hope 2020 brings more joy than grief. Let’s start the new year off with that empty cup. Happy New Year. We miss you.


    1. Hi Dick – Let’s fill the cups with good healthy and happy times. I miss you and Phil too. Hope to see you this year!


  2. Fred / Brenda Lee Corbin · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing. Interesting out look, will give me something to think about.     Fred


    1. You’re welcome – glad you might get something out of it! Happy New Year to you and Brenda and happy birthday to your mom!


  3. Love this Patricia! My cup reflects all the joy it is awaiting to come its way. Re: chemo brain, I once had a chemo nurse tell me there’s no such thing – Really????


    1. Hi Christina – I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, let’s all be awaiting (or creating) a lot of joy in 2020!


  4. Oh Tricia this is beautiful! What a wonderful post to read on New Year’s Day morning with my coffee. Simple and profound. The image of you all laughing in the kitchen is one of those memorable bittersweet life moments and I thank you for sharing this.


  5. Thank you so much, Betty. I’m glad it resonated with you. I know there’s a saying that someday the smile will come before the tears. When I think of that image at least they both come at once.


  6. That’s a lovely post and well appreciated. Good to start out the new year with that mantra.


    1. Thank you so much. I’m glad you got something out of it. :o)


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