I overhear a lot of conversations working in coffee, like the words of the girl who told her mentor, “everyone has someone, and I'm starting to think there's something wrong with me.”
Or the woman who gave me her info and a few book recommendations on marriage after detailing to a friend how she found Jesus in the midst of her divorce.
One of my regulars updates me on the details of a civil case she’s involved in each time she comes in. She told me she held a stone in her hand while she testified to remind her that David beat Goliath. “Holding that stone was the only way I made it through. It gave me a strength I didn’t know I had in me.” I want to learn how to cling that tightly to the word of God and nothing else. I would get so caught up in our conversations that for months she had to remind me to grab her pastry out of the case.
I listen to work phone calls. I tune into small group chats. I pray over bible studies. I watch law students take notes. I offer a book from behind the counter when someone comes in, waiting on their phone to be fixed across the street. I’ve helped an American Ninja Warrior write his resume on a MacBook and then apartment search for the first time in Atlanta. He found a place. He met a girl.
There's a couple that sits in the corner on Thursday mornings who is having an affair. I'm not sure how much to do about it, but when I think about his wife, I want to break my back to catch his full name.
There’s an older man who always gets two refills in his large cup of coffee. The first time I met him, I was in training, and he was yelling at a customer service employee on the phone in the middle of the shop. Six months later, he asked me about the church I go to and, eventually, if he could go too, even if he's gay. I wish I could personally hold out a chair at service for him. I would.
Once, during a slow shift, an elderly woman said confidently over the counter “come sit down with me.” She told me she was 94 years old. What I’ve learned from people past the age of 85 is that the longer you’ve lived, the quicker you act. She didn't have time left to waste with small talk and meaningless interactions.
She sat across a little square table from me, and the light coming through the window made her eyes look like swimming pools.
“I showed up. I kept showing up. I wasn’t perfect, but I was ready. I’ve lived a long time, dear. Everything reminds me of a story now. Every word is part of a lyric. Every situation a song.”
She told me that she got into show business at age five. Her years have been full of adoring crowds, writing projects, and modeling, even into her sixties.
“I took breaks though, only for my husband. I couldn’t let him feel like a failure, so when he’d get let go, that became my job.”
Two of her sons had died, one of cancer and one of an overdose on painkillers. They both saw a lot of doctors for very different reasons. I told her “I’m sure they both fought hard,” because you can’t pretend to understand people’s battles. “I’m sorry you lost them.”
She told me she was raped when she was my age.
When she told me — and it’s been more than seventy years since — it was the first time her face ever looked empty.
I don’t know why she told me. I think she saw herself in me, and all I did was make her tea. I hope I have a face people want to tell their secrets to. I hope I have a heart that knows how to hold them.
My day–to–day looks like people saving each other seats. Friends light up the room when they see each other for the first time in years. I witness a lot of awful first dates, and every once in awhile, a great one.
I don't have much to show for it. Stained teeth. Some business cards in my wallet with personal emails scribbled on the back. The rash the dish soap gives me on the inside of my elbows.
And a deep understanding that we are all made out of the same stuff. People are people are people, when they sound different or they're rude or they are sad and won't tell you why. You can find common ground with anyone.
Even your enemies have birthmarks.