A cold crisp November morning curled up in a cozy chair by the fire in Starbucks, piping hot coffee and my laptop open, my writing mojo strong and swift. I had even found an available outlet to plug in - both literally and figuratively. Tap, tap, tap, sip. The opportunities I have for writing these days are few and far between, so I was relishing every second, burrowing deeper into a scene in a French class at a boarding school.
It wasn’t a happy scene, and my lip started to curl in disgust, and that’s when I noticed the strong stench of urine behind me.
Sweet Jesus. I slowly turned around to look at the obstacle to my literary joy. It was a large elderly man wearing an olive green jacket. He was perching on a stool and looking out the window. I turned back around and tried to get back to my writing, but my olfactory senses had been assaulted and I couldn’t concentrate - I had to move.
The only problem with moving, was that he was sitting right by the outlet where my cord was.
The seat opposite from me was empty, so I unplugged my computer and moved my belongings, and then gingerly made my way over to the window to retrieve my cord from the outlet.
“Excuse me, I just need to get that,” I said, with a half-smile of apology.
“Oh I am so sorry!” this man said to me kindly, but he also sounded . . . embarrassed. He looked worried that he was bothering me - and my heart melted.
“No, I’m the one who is sorry!” I said as I got my cord and made my way back to my seat. I opened my computer but instead of writing, I observed him. What was his story? I didn’t need to know it, only that there was a man who felt invisible, who was marginalized by society in so many ways, and he had just come into Starbucks to warm up. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t invisible, that I could see him. I could see that he was more than his story. I downed the rest of my coffee, still staring at him staring out the window. I didn’t think too much before I jumped up and went back over to him.
“Sir, I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee.”
I looked deep into his eyes while he registered surprise and he cocked his head as if to say “really?” and I kept eye contact with him - really. The corners of his mouth turned up slowly and he had the most stunning smile. “Yes, I will accept your kind offer.”
I asked him about milk and sugar and he nodded, smiling while he gave me his order.
I got back in line for a refill for me and a grande caffeinated beverage for my new friend and I delivered it to him, and when I went back to my seat I have to say that I watched him enjoy it, feeling so grateful for my own heart and its flexibility. In a matter of seconds, my initial disgust had turned to a genuine interaction with another human being. I felt so grateful for this man, for giving me hope and in my own feelings toward humanity.
I went back to finishing my scene with gusto, and a little later, he came over to me, and bent down a little bit to speak softly.
“You know - I am always grateful for whatever anybody chooses to give me. I am a lucky man.” And with that, he left.
I am a lucky man . . .
All I did was buy him coffee and recognize that his personhood. I’m not sure of the impact on him, but I know that for me, the positive impact of our interaction is still reverberating as I write this.
The key to “happiness” they say, is to practice gratitude daily, remain curious and open, and to share both of those things with others.
The fourth Thursday of this month is merely a reminder of all of these things, even in a world full of doubt and uncertainty, homelessness, mental illness, and wars. There is room. Let’s make room!
So here’s to daily Thanksgiving! (And lots of turkey/tofurkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes today!)
PS And thank you to Starbucks for serving a purpose for the larger community as a civic space.