Week 45 (gratitude)
“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” ~ Erol Ozan
In the ladies restroom of the Starbucks Coffee Shop where I was once employed, hung a sign on the wall that read, “Behind every good cup of coffee, there is a Barista…and a good story.”
From the beginning of my journey with the coffee bean at age four to the circumstances that led me to this coffee shop nearly forty years later, that sign would prove this part of my story to be favorable.
On many of those chilly, early mornings in Boston, my sister Carmela and I would awake at 3 o’clock and tiptoe quietly down the stairs to join my father for a yummy cup of freshly brewed Joe and before he departed for a long day of work. He worked for the Greyhound Bus Service and drove the local city bus. I don’t believe my mother ever knew of our coffee time with my dad. It was our little secret. I declare, I imagined that the French press aroma traveled from the kitchen to my bedroom…only to find me and my nostrils.
As a child, seeing his warm smile across the counter top was enough to warm my heart, like a satisfying Caramel Brulee Latte. It was the inception to my every morning in that lonely frosty city. I would climb to reach the counter top that was too high for my chin to look over. I remember once sniffing a coffee bean, pondering on its’ origin, and wondering what was inside. It resembled a chocolate covered raisin and so, often, I ate them right out of the bag.
Similar to that chocolate covered raisin, my coffee journey has been an interesting one with aromatic surprises around every corner. From my northern city home in Boston, Massachusetts to a suburban corner high-rise in Silver Spring, Maryland, the spirit of the coffee bean has traveled with me all of those years. Similar to the equilibrium we look for in a coffee roast, we tend to seek the same sense of balance and character in our lives, often overwhelming like the cup that is running over. As an adult, coffee became my most beloved early morning companion, yet again.
While working as a full-time contractor for Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., my daughter was 14 years-old and restricted in bed with a massive peptic ulcer on the lining of her esophagus. Her complexities were evident like the elements of a coffee bean: curious, strong, and abstract. All apparent at once. Simultaneously, my mother was recovering from a triple bypass heart surgery. And while my daughter was unable to walk and on prescription drugs on the west side of the apartment, my mother was digesting a multiple of time-managed medications on the east side. I placed a charted schedule on the wall by her bedside.
My mother and daughter were both incapacitated with similar, but different needs. My mother needed to be bathed; my daughter carried to the bathroom. My mother’s food had to be compressed in a juicer, while my daughter required several cups of cabbage juice to help her heal. The repulsive odor from the cabbage left a lingering smell throughout the apartment. The refrigerator was stocked with heads of cabbage, green and reeking. During the brief hours that my mother rested, my daughter was wide-awake, vomiting incessantly. I worked most days, some half days. Other days not at all. Managing employment, paying the rent, buying food for the specific needs of each person, managing my son’s academic schedule and keeping the lights on, collectively – became one frantic affair. And so, I decided to leave my job to care for them both.
Time and effort demanded the most of my attention. Soon after, the reality was poignant, like the bittersweet aspect of coffee. I was emotionally and physically stripped, like a coffee bean pulped from its skin and fermented in a cement tank, so it felt. Depleted. I continued to manage my son’s academic schedule, while addressing home tutoring for my daughter. Not long thereafter, she was assigned a tutor from the school system who came three times a week to administer her learning. He was an exceptionally nice man, retired, but full of knowledge and vivacity. My daughter and I were pleased and it made the journey seem more delicate like light roasted beans, warm and nutty with cinnamon spice.
After a period of time at home our finances began to dwindle. I considered taking on part-time employment, somewhere I knew I might enjoy. As luck would have it, and a decision that arose from a circumstance of adjustment, I began working as a Barista with the Starbucks Coffee Corporation in the spring of 2007. I valued the opportunity to connect with customers in the neighborhood, from Congressmen to college students. I embraced new friendships and was surrounded in an environment that was honestly familiar. After all, coffee and I were not strangers. We had sustained a long-standing relationship that was distinct, delightful, and divine – like the earnest aroma of a Caffe Americano.
Months passed. My Starbucks journey lasted exactly nine months and one week. It was one of the most humbling, yet enlightening experiences I’d ever had. And it karmically occurred during a time when my mother and I had not spoken – until she had a heart attack. Never in a lifetime had I imagined that serving a Triple Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte at an hourly rate of $8.50 would feel more rewarding than sitting at a round table discussion, in a boardroom of a corporate office, while taking home an annual salary of more than $70,000. Those circumstances forced me to discover my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, while repairing a severely fragmented relationship with my mother. It was a restorative journey, for us all.
I am not sure when I began my tradition of greeting the sunrise with deep breaths and a tasty cup of Joe. But I do know that as a child, I was grateful for the quality time I got to share in my father’s space – and the lessons that arose as a mother and daughter. Even today, I become teary-eyed when I think of those times and that struggle. That beautiful struggle. It proved that the worst of times can sometimes be the most beneficial of times. Obverse and forgiving. Organic and unfiltered. The impression behind that sign on the wall at Starbucks shook my perspective like a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino.
Many coffee connoisseurs understand that a single day doesn’t truly begin, until that first sip of deliciousness sets the sunrise in motion. Their day is somehow made brighter because of a service, or perhaps, a smile. I suspect that few people could view such an encounter as mine in such a positive manner and due to its’ intricacies. In retrospect, that experience heightened my consciousness of family, freed my spirit, and allowed me to grow, as all life experiences do. Understandably so, when most people hit a wall of difficulty, focus is abruptly placed on the survival of everyday life. But somehow, catastrophes often render blessings in disguise. I now see that coffee journey as a benediction; a journey of gratitude. My employment experience at Starbucks was a blessing and though I had many challenges to contend with, I was grateful for every step.
After six long months of naturopathic therapies, my daughter’s ulcer disappeared and my mother was able to return to her home. The end result of it all was clear, like a coffee bean free of defects. Several years later and while in Florida, a journey of another order allowed me to return to the beloved coffee shop I so adored. As well and over time, I have grown to treasure sidewalk cafes all over the world. Be they French, Italian, or American – I venture to find them.
At Starbucks, there is a profound quote imprinted on the back of each cup. These collective of quotes are called The Way I See It.
The Way I See It # 233
I used to think that going to the jungle made my life an adventure. However, after years of unusual work in exotic places, I realize that it is not how far off I go or how deep into the forest I walk that gives my life meaning. I see that living life fully is what makes life – anyone’s life, no matter where they go or do not go – and adventure. ~ Maria Fadiman, Geographer and Ethnobotanist
The Way I See It #292
The way we get to live forever is through memories stored in the hearts and souls of those whose lives we touch. That’s our soul print. It’s our comfort, our emotional nourishment at the end of the day and the end of a life. How wonderful that they are called up at will and savored randomly. It seems to me we should spend our lives in a conscious state of creating these meaningful moments that live on. Memories matter. ~ Leeza Gibbons, Television and radio personality
I have learned to inhale life just as I breathe in the aroma of the coffee bean. Moments matter. Time matters. Most times, we choose the moment over the experience. But inevitably, the experience chooses us. Hale to the coffee bean.
Weekly Affirmation: I am humbled and appreciative of all things.
Love and Light for your Tuesday!
Tuesday Morning Love: 52 Commentaries and Weekly Affirmations to Honor the Soul Within the Souldier (edited edition) will soon again be available in eBook and Paperback. We regret the delay and thank you for your patience and continued support.
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