I just had to do it.
Walk into a Starbucks that is.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes…I know what is going on in the world. But the coffee shop was open…and, well, my soul needed a moment.
This Starbucks moment was a few days back when I needed to get a few items from the grocery store. Just days prior to this visit store shelves were empty. No meat, produce…not even one single potato to be found. It goes without saying that the cleaning supplies aisle was completely bare and I was surprised too that the bread and milk aisles were also nearly wiped out. I will never forget the anxiety of that moment. Unlike so many in the world, in all my years, I had never seen anything like that.
So…As I did during my previous visit, once in the store, I engaged in the new normal; I wiped down the grocery cart not once, but twice. I was relieved to see that the produce aisles were decently stocked. As I made my way through the store I used additional wipes during several more aisle stops including just after paying for my items. There was a certain electricity in the air that made my heart pound. Maybe it’s just my imagination? Maybe it’s just that the weather is going to change? In any event, the feeling had me walking quickly back to my car. Before I even reached my car I realized that I had been practically holding my breath during the fifteen or so minutes in the store.
Honestly, I felt as if a weight of a hundred bags of sand had been placed on my chest. A mild panic was brewing…
My morning had already been fraught with enough anxiety –for a variety of reasons too raw to share– and I needed to quell what was bubbling to the surface.
A treat of sorts would surely work, I reasoned. Hence I headed to the place that often soothes my soul.
After loading my two bags of groceries in the car (no hoarding here!) I walked over to Starbucks. Upon entering the coffee shop I immediately saw that things were in full-on social distancing mode. Well, that IS a good thing. All tables and chairs had been moved to the wall and stacked so as to not be available for use. There were three baristas behind the counter but only two customers to serve. Perfect! I can get a cup of coffee (i.e., support a local business during an economic meltdown)…say hi to another fellow human being (naturally, adhering to social distancing protocol)…and leave a nice tip too for the barista who is no teenager (that is to say, I reckon she’s got mouths to feed).
Immensely thankful for my espresso fix I got my coffee and left the shop. But, before heading directly to my car, I chose to stand outside in the sun for a moment drinking in the warmth from both coffee and the late morning sunshine. As I did so, a rather imposing looking dude with his tiny white fluffy dog sat at a table just outside of Starbucks’ doors. I moved myself over a good distance way, say fifteen feet, and took a sip of coffee. I noted the guy with the dog had a cup of coffee in one hand and was on the phone with his other. He seemed plenty agitated with whomever he was talking to. I only caught a word here or there as I was more intent on watching a tiny bird hunt for crumbs on the sidewalk. After a moment or two I can hear that he ends his conversation with, “…anyway, I love you.” Not a moment later he looks over at me and practically yells, “This world is going to hell!”
For a second, I thought of bolting for the car. He seemed to me on the cusp of becoming unhinged. In fact, I’m sure he could flatten me with just a look. Still, he’s got a cute fluffy dog at his feet and he just told someone “I love you” so….let’s give this moment a chance.
“Well, yes…these are surreal times we are living in,” was my measured response.
“I am retired military—twenty years of doing service for this here country,” he says banging his hand on the table. His coffee cup takes a bounce but he catches it before it falls. “This whole thing is some twisted shit and it’s freaking me out. I am used to order, discipline…being in control! And right now, ain’t nothing going right!” he said shaking his head.
“I feel ya. It’s all pretty crazy. I’ve had a difficult morning myself,” I offered. “But you know what, I realized in a moment of bubbling panic that constant listening to the news and opines on social media wasn’t serving me one bit. I mean, ya gotta be informed, right? I get it. But still, I just had to stop…step back…take a breath. And, get coffee. Well, I also have to take more than a breath and keep repeating my little phrase.”
“You’ve got a phrase?” he asked looking at me with keen interest.
“Oh…well yes. It’s nothing special and I am sure you’ve heard it before. I just keep saying This Too Shall Pass. Honestly, it is helping me to not get so wound around the axle, especially during these crazy times. I’m not perfect at keeping the anxiety at bay…really, I am not…but every time I stop and catch the rising panic with a deep breath and my phrase, well, it helps in that moment anyway.”
“Yeah. I tend to get worked up real good because of my deployments,” he said. “I am getting counseling for it. It ain’t been an easy road…and…well, I’ve stopped drinking,” he added.
Resisting the urge to give this guy a high five (for obvious reasons) I gave him my brightest smile possible, saying: “Awesome for you! Keep up the good work. It’s one day at a time. Just takes deep breaths when you feel the wave of anxiety start to take over and keep saying over and over This Too Shall Pass.”
“Thank you for that,” he said.
I waved goodbye and headed to my car.
I‘m so glad I took a moment with a complete stranger. I’d like to think I gave him something positive to hold on to for the day, at the very least, for a few minutes. And, truth be told, the brief exchange lifted my spirits too. Both of us, without a doubt, feel levels of vulnerability and certainly undeniable fear–it sure seems that everything is spinning out of control and we are helpless souls in the thick of it all. Every moment seems to grow heavier with worry. Worry for my Italian family. Worry for my children…my family…my neighbors, worry for our own financial future, and so on. For each of us, our survival is being radically threatened and the stress of it is overwhelming; it would be all too easy to shut down and simply throw in the towel as it were. But, connection is crucial to humanity. We cannot survive without it. The reality is social connection–human touch– during these frighteningly surreal times is certainly much more difficult, but thankfully, not impossible. Taking time to offer kind words and smiles (with social distancing in mind) as well as frequent text messaging and talking to friends and loved ones by phone, Skype, Zoom…whatever flavor of technology… will most certainly get us through waves of panic to calmer waters. Humor and silliness helps too. So does coffee…
Everything is going to be okay (one way or the other). I’m certain of it. I have to be.
This too shall pass. There is bliss in that.
Stay well kind readers.