Exchange in a coffee shop

There was no avoiding her, in my mind. She was right there, center stage in my line of vision, put in my path for a reason.Pensive young woman at cafe looks out the window

Last night, a friend and I had dinner, then stopped by a local coffee shop. As she went to the counter to get fixings for her coffee, I came face to face with a young woman one table over from ours. Without my friend sitting across from me, I was staring this woman in the face.

She did not notice me; her gaze was down. She was a million miles away, by the looks of it. And not in some warm, beachy vacation spot. In a very dark place.

I hate this look.

Many of us avert our eyes, feeling we’re intruding on someone’s privacy when we catch such an unguarded look.

I no longer can.

Life opened me up a few years ago, like it or not. And now I feel this responsibility to do something with that knowledge, that empathy.

I knew the look on her face so very well. It had settled on my own face numerous times during a particularly hard recent period in my life.

This look belonged to neither of us. It’s universal. I see it now, oh so clearly, on the face of the mother who is driving carpool behind me. After she drops her kids off, she sits at the red light, with the pain on her face almost palpable.

I see it in the face of the cashier at the grocery store, the cab driver, a loved one.

Etre le premier, être le meilleur. Différence conceptI don’t know if life opening me up with my own pain has made me see with new eyes or if there is just a lot more pain in the world than there used to be. Either way, I see it.

But, what to do?

Sometimes, I just offer up a silent prayer. Last night, I could not keep myself from speaking. What I said was innocuous. Had nothing to do with her pain. But it was a human touch to break up the lonely brooding.

“That looks like Heaven,” I said. “Being able to sit in a coffee shop on a Friday night, alone, relaxing with no distractions.”

“I’m just waiting for the train after work,” she explained. “And it does feel good to sit down.”

“All you need is a good book,” I said, smiling.

“You know what? You’re right,” she said, smiling. “I just finished one and think I need another.”

She stayed a while longer and then left. But her look lightened a bit. If nothing else, my interruption of her train of thought had dialed down the intensity.

A harmless exchange. Not earth shattering. Our little conversation might have been an annoyance rather than a balm.

But we don’t know. My mother used to tell me the story of a young nursing student who attended the school Mom ran. This young woman was walking down the hall one night. My mother was working late. Mom sensed something amiss and asked the girl to come into her office for a conversation. She counseled her, I’m sure, as she had her daughters so many times. Thought not much of it.

Years later, this woman sent my mother a letter telling her she was planning on suicide that evening. And the conversation stopped her. Mom had no idea.

She used this with me to remind me often of my impact on the world. When I was thoughtless, or catty, or judgmental, she brought that story out again and again despite my eye rolling.

Now that my vision seems to have been sharpened by my own pain, I feel an obligation. Maybe it’s Mom’s teachings. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s just basic humanity.

Whatever it is, it is to be respected. Heeded. Acted upon.

Perhaps it makes up for my general impatience with other drivers, ego, long checkout lines. I’m no saint so when I find something I get right, I’ll run with it.

I’m done with random. People are place in our path, sometimes front and center for only a few minutes, for a reason. And it may take great pain to recognize great pain.

I intend to use it. To give it a purpose.

I bet I’m not alone.

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30 Comments Add yours

  1. I loved this for many reasons. The most of is that these exchanges still happen between two people. I think it’s God, in you, nudging you and using you as this gorgeous knowing tool. Eloquent, tender, not pushy. I admire your approach. I will replicate it — there you are again! — as my approach tends to be just straight-up, “are you doing ok?” Like I said to a mid-20s check-out clerk whose head was so heavy in his own hands I thought surely this is part of one of those TV stunts: “Find the Nice People” or some other nonsense. The man brightened, a bit. I would’ve stayed to talk, but he quickly reverted to his posture, although slightly lighter, I hope. Thanks for being so daring. -m

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that you notice–and address–the people put in your path. So many don’t and the world just seems to get lonelier for those feeling disenfranchised . . .

  2. Dalo 2013 says:

    I really like the thoughts you have with this post. There are connections with people we come across and taking an interest in life around us always has something special to be found. Great writing and a perfect quote: “Whatever it is, it is to be respected. Heeded. Acted upon.”

  3. csmith2600 says:

    I love this view, this advice. I’ve suffered much pain in my life, and I too can see the pain in others. I love that you stepped out and said something. Did something. Interacted when she needed. I believe God prompts us to act, and I hope I continue to step forward when prompted.

  4. ch4rl13sm1th says:

    I’m usually not on the other side of these events, but last week I was, hungry for interaction, and received it. It inspired the post “The Third Floor”, one of a few instances where someone reached out and saved a little bit of my sanity by using humanity. High five for having the courage to reach out.

  5. Very powerful, you’re right that we never know the impact we have, so why not try to make a positive one.

  6. Great post – we never know the calibrations of another human being but kindness is its own reward. I bet you felt great after this encounter!

  7. Willow-Marie says:

    No Kay, you aren’t alone. Here’s to the human condition…we all share it, but don’t always act on it. Maybe someday soon. Here’s to the part you just played in helping that happen.

  8. Thanks for this touching post. I was sitting this morning and kept thinking about Jesus Himself going out of the way to minister to those who were in all kinds of predicaments. He moved out and about….and ministered with love and grace.

  9. Debbie says:

    Your writings are so insightful. I enjoy and can relate to each in some way. Keep them coming.

  10. RuthsArc says:

    Thanks Kay for a lovely insightful post. The small gestures often have the most impact.

  11. One day when I was in a particularly bad place, barely putting one foot in front of the other, I got to the cashier at a supermarket and realized I had forgotten my wallet and could not buy the few items I had purchased. I was fumbling about for some stray coins in my bag when this total stranger dropped some coins on the counter, smiled at me and walked away ignoring my protests. I found the warmth of human kindness that day and it is a day I will never forget. You are correct. You never know how much small acts of kindness can mean to the person on the receiving end.

    1. candidkay says:

      Now there’s an angel walking:). Love that.

  12. You are right. You’re not alone.

  13. This was brilliance. I agree. I especially loved: “People are place in our path, sometimes front and center for only a few minutes, for a reason. And it may take great pain to recognize great pain.” #truth

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Kind words and appreciated:).

  14. Amy says:

    Oh, my dear friend, this post has made my day. Simply beautiful. xox

  15. George says:

    Great post, compassionate thoughts and a terrific pay it forward from your mother’s interaction so many years ago. We never know where our words or actions will lead.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, George, for stopping by and for the kind words.

  16. Oh yes, this is important. We are here for this very purpose. Great post!

  17. For each wall that you demolish from a fear or hard time in your life, the more open you become. Each time you release something, you have more room for you. And each time you polish that beauty that is within, the more you attract or connect with someone for exactly who you are.
    Kind lady, you are standing in your truth and giving from that place, and as you said, it may have only been a distraction or some words, but in the life of another it can be a matter of life or death.
    It is learning to stand in your integrity and just be your truth inside. It is always a two way street, as you have also now gone back and thought over what your mother said, you said, and realised the beauty of what you have become. If we constantly stand in that truth you will find that unconditional love within for there is no more fears to block it.
    Great post Kay, and one of great beauty for the wisdom it contains. Mark

    1. Dale says:

      Oh wow… What Mark said! So beautifully replied…

    2. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Mark. As usual, you put it so kindly and eloquently.

      1. Thank you Kay. Your have reached a place to realise your journey has changed. You have reached that peak of life where you begin to ‘see’ the other side and understand your journey to this point.
        Now the fun begins as you realise another you, another direction in life, and the balancing begins. This time your no longer the passenger and reacting to life. This time you get the steering wheel, the ability to steer and create from where you truly are within.
        Enjoy the journey, it will have many heartfelt smiles and even a few more bumps. But this time you begin to understand their purpose 🙂

  18. What a great story. Small moments can make such huge changes.

  19. I love the clarity I hear in this post. I wish more people would approach others with a kind gesture, a smile or a few simply words. I will do my part along with you!

  20. suemclaren24 says:

    Well done. Again. Leo Buscaglia wrote a short essay, published in the Reader’s Digest about 30 years ago, titled “The Girl in the Fifth Row”, a similar story to that of your Mom’s experience, touching the heart as much of his writing did. We never know what effect our actions and words have on other people, moment to moment. In the words of the latest Cinderella film – have courage and be kind.

    1. candidkay says:

      I will have to look that essay up. His book, Love, was one of my favorites once upon a time.

  21. markbialczak says:

    You paid it forward, Kay, quite well.. That’s the beauty of life. Little gifts grow to be big and significant, and then the recipient delivers another small package to a needy soul.

  22. Dale says:

    I think it is a mixture of both life lived and maturity that gives us a deeper awareness of what’s around us. Good for you for not ignoring what you felt was important to do. Too often with withhold ourselves and, as you saw, a little snippet of a conversation was enough to illicit a smile…

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