A Cup of Coffee: Unexpected visitors
Most of my life takes place in a coffeehouse, and I find that it has many stories. As someone who has always loved to read, I discovered early on that stories are a way of discovering worlds within worlds. Now after being in one place for a long time, I have come to believe the most meaningful stories, the kind that change us, or make us see our own life in a new light, aren’t hiding on pages to be discovered but instead are carried around inside of people we cross paths with every day.
To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be the kind of person who stayed in the same place her whole life. I told myself that would never be me. But there is so much you can miss when you’re moving here and there, and there is so much you can see when you are sitting still.
Sometimes I watch with envy, the whole coming and going of travelers. I know this time tomorrow they will be somewhere else, maybe somewhere new and exciting while I’ll still be with the coffee and the kitchen sink. Then again, it’s easy to take for granted the simplicity of routine. From the tables to the dishes, there’s something soothing about repetition and knowing where things belong, knowing this cup goes here, and that spoon goes there. Each has its own place because I have made sure of that.
Mixed in with things that belong are also things that get left behind because people leave things at the cafe all the time: a sweater, a jacket, homework, sometimes an idea that lingers. Some things that are left are forgotten and lost for good, but there are things that are found here too: a quiet moment to one’s self, the good light, a cup of coffee with a friend, or an unexpected conversation.
Unexpected conversations are a way of life for wandering off the beaten path. They are necessary to get at those stories, the ones being carried around inside of people we cross paths with every day. Sometimes we only get bits and pieces, but that can be exactly what we need in that moment. On a serendipitous occasion, you might cross paths at the cafe with someone you were just thinking of or someone from another country, or on an even rarer occasion, Tibetan monks.
Tibetan monks? You never know what will come in with the light of what is new.
When customers ask me about the most memorable experience I’ve had as coffee shop owner, I still smile when I tell the story. I had attended a lecture at the Germantown library given by visiting Tibetan monks. After the lecture, I went up to one of the monks who had spoken. The speaker shared that their spiritual teacher had gone out for a walk that morning. Apparently, their teacher had not come back yet, so their schedule was somewhat uncertain. I invited them to come back to my cafe for coffee in the meantime. The monk then expressed that they didn’t have any money. I said it wasn’t an issue, as I appreciated attending the free lecture. The monk politely declined, but I gave him the cafe number just in case things changed. Thirty minutes later, I received a phone call. They were on their way.
If you had walked into the cafe that day, you would have seen Tibetan monks in orange robes sitting on couches drinking cappuccinos. Once the coffees were enjoyed, they insisted on washing the dishes and offering a blessing.
“No, don’t worry about washes the dishes,” I said.
“We must wash the dishes,” they insisted. It was futile to argue. I sat down at the pink table and the Tibetan monks gathered together and began to chant. It was like they were passing their voices around the table in a circular motion, like their voices were literally dancing in a circle. It felt amazing. One of my customers decided to get up and turn off the music playing, so that once the chant had ended, absolute silence filled the air.
By Mary Burns