Tears at a Coffee Shop

Over the last twelve years, coffee shops have been a place of refuge. It started with Starbucks, meeting a friend to pray there nearly everyday during a two year rough patch. I found myself there on weekend evenings as well- a nice place to read books, alone but with other people around.

The beautiful thing about Starbucks is that they’re the same everywhere. Moving back home to Portland, I was grateful for the home away from home I found at Starbucks. The only thing that didn’t change other than the Good Lord Himself. Starbucks continued to be my place until I discovered I was in the coffee Mecca of the world. My routine shifted to my four favorites which became a Sunday routine for my rest day after church.

I realized how important this routine had become when COVID hit and all coffee shops closed. As the restaurants found ways to operate “to go”, I adapted my routine to maintain a semblance of reality and vote with my money for my favs to survive the pandemic.

Our Governor has gained my respect through the pandemic by making decisions based on data rather than on what literally anyone else thinks. As a result, it has only been in the last few weeks that restaurants have had the green light to fully reopen after over a year and 3 months of being restricted or closed altogether. A lot of shops have been slow to come back to normal either out of hesitancy to open and then be closed again or out of concern over a potential resurgence of this invisible enemy that has so altered “normal.”

My favorite Sunday spot has been no exception. Since March 2020, they have not been open for in store visits and only served from the doorway for a significant part of the year. I 100% respect that strategy but also missed the comfort of sitting in their space. I love their coffee, I love their wall paper, I love people watching, I love chatting with friends or strangers and enjoying the day.

Today when I walked in to order my to go cup and walk up to the local park as usual, I headed to the back where they had moved the cash register during COVID but was stopped short.

People.

In.

The.

Booths!

The cash register was moved back to its regular spot in the front and people were sitting inside, enjoying the luxurious treat inside the shop.

By the time I turned around to get in line to order, I was crying. When I’m sad I cry one tear at a time. When the emotions really hit hard, two tears flow simultaneously. This was two-tear crying.

The friendly lady behind the counter was concerned and kindly said, “Happy tears or sad tears?”

I would have been more embarrassed if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve all been in this together. “Happy tears- I’m just so happy you’re fully open!”

She laughed and we chatted about what a hard year it’s been, how we’ve bottled up emotions to get through, how she’s still concerned they’ve opened too early, and the unknown of what the future could hold.

As I sat (sigh of deep relief) on a bench stool in the cozy shop to sip my coffee and people watch (and regain control of my emotions), I reflected on the complexity of my emotional reaction.

15 months of putting my head down and plugging through was spilling over.

But also, what a significant privilege to grieve the loss of sitting in a coffee shop.

I held my job all the way through and as a result paid my mortgage without concern. I had two friends loose taste and smell indefinitely from COVID, but otherwise, suffered no loss of loved ones to the virus. I can afford to have a bougie coffee shop as part of my weekly (if not daily) routine.

We have all been in it together, but some people, as always, suffered an exponentially heavier load.

As things come back to normal, how will my life shift as a result of what we’ve experienced? Where is my heart, time, money spent if a coffee shop closing is what causes my heart to bleed? How do I hold the human emotions I’m experiencing as my life is directed and redirected by decisions based on what will protect the community at large, while realizing that this lack of control is not unusual for a majority of folks on the regular? How can we return to a better normal and what part can I play in that?

The questions make me feel lost and lonely but I’m also grateful for this time and space to reflect.

A lot was lost this year, least of which is a space to drink coffee. But I think the tears are about more than coffee. I think they’re about community and living life together, hopes and dreams for folks building small businesses, and rubbing shoulders with strangers and friends.

A lot that should have already been broadly recognized was laid bare last year and there’s a lot more to reconcile. I will continue to reflect, process, and act.

But for the moment, my heart is full of hope as I sit and acknowledge the privilege, that I will no longer take for granted, of sipping coffee inside a coffee shop.

Sister, Auntie, friend, HR enthusiast by day, using writing to make sense of this journey called life.