#113 Coffee with John

When was the last time you did something for pure joy?

Most kids do that all the time. They might have some initial trepidation, but they go for the adventure, letting themselves be carried away by the moment without care or worries. They run down the hill with open arms, laughing and being present.

As adults, we tend not to be easily swayed by that hill, holding back and overthinking: it’s too steep, and what if I fall; my shoes will get dirty; I don’t have the proper attire; I will have to come back up; and a thousand other thoughts crossing our minds before we turn our backs away from that magnificent mountain top beckoning us to take the chance.

Am I an adventurous person? Have I always been adventurous?

I don’t know if I have a check box to answer either of those questions.

I have turned my back and stepped away from a promise of an adventure many times. Fear, skepticism, mistrust, and lack of confidence have been the culprits. Yet, I feel I have taken many steps forward in following a path open to exploring and running down valleys of fun wherever they take me.

It doesn’t mean my old friend trepidation stops visiting with vows of seduction, tempting me to take the bait to rest in a cradle of comfort and safety. A case in point: a few days before my Coffee with John #113 that old acquaintance came knocking hard.

No good reason or anything to do with my coffee mate but dread was getting the best of me. I don’t know why.

Perhaps my hesitation came on the heels of pondering the question a few weeks back of why I was continuing this project (a question that each new meeting provides new steadfast grounds to forge forward).

The meeting reminded me to let go of reasons, justifications, fears. Trust and run the mountain top with open arms to all possibilities.

If I had canceled or postponed the meeting, I would have robbed myself of a joyful conversation, a good coffee, and the chance to get to know an intriguing lawyer/business owner with a penchant for history, making a difference and leaving a mark in the landscape of Charlotte.

Spread your arms wide and embrace the adventure of everyday life.

#112 Coffee with John: how are you showing up in our community?

Hands-on New York/Orlando, Bright Blessings, and Crisis Assistance Ministry are some of the organizations I came to know because of my wife.

She was always looking to volunteer and be of service wherever we settled, dragging me and my son along many times against our wishes. She volunteered at schools, preschools, animal shelters, and any organization that tugged at her heart. Children’s causes had a special place for her. Her ultimate dream was to open an orphanage in her native Dominican Republic (DR).

The few times we visited DR she would set aside in our luggage toys or clothes to disperse to family members in need or random children playing along the side of dirt roads next to shanty houses — the image of a young girl smiling in complete amazement when my wife handed her a doll comes to mind as I write this sentence. I still have a bucket half full of Barbie dolls and other toys we never got to take but which I hope to give away one day on a trip back to her land.

My coffee mate for Coffee with John #112 reminded me of that magnanimous spirit that so inspired my wife. A stranger who reached out to me after seeing my CWJ FB Group and Ballantyne Magazine piece, my mate seems to be involved in different organizations, from the arts to health-care services, volunteering and giving her time with utter joy, kindness, and passion.

I don’t know nor can I pretend to know what drives those selfless spirits to give part of themselves to their communities: religion, love, or a sense of duty. Whatever the motivator, if there is even a need for one, prompts the question: how are you showing up in your community?

Personally, I had continued the tradition, setting aside at least one Saturday a month to volunteer at Crisis Ministry, but all that got derailed once the pandemic hit. Now, I have no excuse. I have continued to donate blood but I hope to renew that flame and get back to giving to the community somehow, even on a small scale.

I hope you find your own reasons to give back and get involved in your community. If you do, share your story with me and tell me your experience of perhaps bringing a smile and a sense of wonder to a fellow passenger in this life.

#111 Coffee with John

The first meet-up of 2022, five months after the start of the year! How could that be? Where have the months gone by?

Probably the why is the crucial question here. Why has it taken me this long to continue Coffee with John (CWJ)?

A few answers: getting COVID at the beginning of January for the second time since the pandemic; a few people bailing out at the last minute; almost losing my toes to frostbite, putting me out of commission for a few months; and, to be honest, a lack of motivation.

The latter is harder to explain. Not that I have no desire to continue and meet my goal of meeting 150 people. Still, the momentum is not the same. As I have probably mentioned before, I am not the same, nor does life find me in the same spot when I started this project.

My grief, pain, and emotional toil are not the same. I am in a good place – emotionally and mentally. Life finds me experiencing love again and all the magic and adventure that comes with the euphoria of a new relationship.

What then continues to be the driving purpose of this project? Do I continue for the sake of continuing? Do I take this initiative in a different direction? Do I call it quits? As my motivation, energy, focus, and attention will divert me in different directions, how long will it take me to eventually meet my goal?

Meeting #111 served as a reinforcement of how much I enjoy connecting with people. The conversation flowed from different topics, from talking about life experiences to sharing family stories, belief systems, and the circumstances/events leading to where life finds us. In the end, I got to know a fellow friend better, gaining a renewed appreciation for a friend and his life experiences.

CWJ sets a stage for an openness that might otherwise not occur, allowing me to hear and become an active participant in sharing stories that hopefully provide value to my coffee mates and myself. This will continue to be my drive: the desire to connect and share a moment with a fellow traveler in this journey we call life.

#110 Coffee with John: Where is the you? (Virtual edition)

Coffee with John #110, the last of 2021!

Only fitting that the conversation included talk of resolutions and new year’s eve traditions, like the ritual of running around the block at the strike of midnight with a suitcase to welcome more travel.

Actually, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone carry out that tradition or the one about wearing specific colored underwear to bring a particular attribute into their lives (e.i, yellow for good luck, red for love, white for inner peace, and I don’t know what else). Now, I don’t know about you but, most likely, I was wearing black as most of my underwear is of that color. Wait! Please excuse this interruption while I look at what wearing black underwear on new year’s eve means.

I am back. It means…

I am digressing. I don’t mean to talk about my underwear or yours. A more interesting topic that came to the forefront during my conversation is the self, the center of almost every New Year resolution.

Even if we disdain the thought of new year rituals, it’s probably one of the few times of the year when we are drawn to actively or indirectly engage in thinking or discussing the goals/activities we want to undertake, placing the self at the center.

The irony is that we live in a self-centered society already where the “I” is ubiquitously displayed on our social media. The paradox is that we lose ourselves. The “I” becomes a persona, playing a part on the Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TicTak stage. 

Or we get lost in the never-ending to-do. Not far, or an integral part of the must get dones, we get lost in the I am a spouse, parent, worker, artist, caregiver, professional, and whatever other roles we are fulfilling. You strip those personas/roles and we might have an identity crisis.

Who are we without any of those qualifiers? What makes us, us? What are we doing to take care of ourselves? How are we cultivating a deeper knowledge of ourselves outside the parameters of an attached identity? What motivates/inspires us? How do we become present with ourselves without getting lost in distractions that are not expansive, i.e distractions that do little to challenge us, or contribute to our well-being?

I was confronted by a version of those questions at two critical points in my life: first, when I lost my wife and, then a year later, when I became an empty nester. I had always had a separate identity, doing my yoga, running, and following other interests outside of being a husband and father. Still, faced with those new realities, I was forced to redirect my life, making those sets of questions more pronounced and immediate. Not always easy or with clarity, I have welcomed the challenges and the possibilities of getting connected and reacquainted with myself, exploring past and new interests: practicing meditation, reading more, challenging myself to hike on my own, exploring online classes, and learning more about various subjects including photography and sexuality. All those are avenues of exploration that call out to me for a variety of reasons.

I am not going to prescribe or pontificate about any specific activity to pursue. Instead, I encourage all of us to put our phones down to take two to ten minutes a day to explore different paths of self-care and exploration. A good starting point might be answering the question of what is going on with YOU outside any of our prescribed roles. Start with that question to begin formulating and solidifying an identity of what you want for yourself, be it a hobby or an attribute.

A response might be that there is no time. How many times do we say “I don’t have the luxury, energy, time, or bandwidth to meditate, read, or do x.” I don’t negate the reality of time constraints and other hurdles we all have in our lives. But the essential question/challenge is how can we take of others and that of our thousands of responsibilities when we are getting lost in the identities of others and neglecting our physical, mental, emotional needs. Find yourself.

#109 Coffee with John: Question, Lean into Curiosity

Rare are those skillful in asking questions from deep down their heart with genuine curiosity. I am not talking about the questions that you might exchange in your ordinary, day-to-day interactions, say a first date, a working meeting, and an interview. (Although what I am talking about here can happen in any of those scenarios, too).

What I am talking about is the type of situation where you get deep and lost in a conversation where the person is asking you question after question in a manner that is not intrusive but welcoming, not accusatory but explorative, not diminishing but encouraging, not perfunctory but thorough, not as an avoidance ruse but an invitation to conversation. The type of questions that are thoughtful and insightful, beckoning you to answer with all guards down; where you feel heard and seen.

I have only encountered a few of those rare inquisitive wizards in my lifetime. They are curious and can create an almost magical atmosphere where the exchanges are mutual and the conversation is selfless. Such was my coffee-mate for CWJ #109. It’s no wonder why she is pursuing a master’s in therapy. She has a gift!

But we don’t need to be of a special breed or be pursuing a master’s. That quality of becoming a wizard at asking insightful questions is not out of our reach. The magic recipe is leaning into our curiosity, exploring our inquisitiveness about the other person, and putting aside egos, nerves, agendas. The payout is rapport and a stronger bond with people.

Don’t take my word for it. Have you heard of what has become known as the 36 Questions to Fall in Love? If you haven’t, read about the study of principal psychologists Arthur Aron, Ph.D., and Elaine Aron, Ph.D., a study made popular in a New York Times Modern Love essay.

I don’t know if you will find love by embracing and testing out those questions in the field but at least you can’t draw some inspiration to have in your armor for the next time you are ready to engage in a magical conversation.

Taking my cue, it is only fitting that I ask you a question inspired by one of the 36: What are three things you currently feel most grateful for?

Here are my three:

  • My son – Born on my birthday, he is the best gift I have ever received. As soon as I saw him coming out of Lari’s womb, I was in love (no need for any question). Love, magic, adventure, anxiety, worry, and all the wonders fatherhood brings I welcome and continue to enjoy in the endless adventure that is parenthood.
  • The people in my life – I am grateful for the special people in my life. I am grateful for a good network of friends. I am grateful for good colleagues. I am grateful for good neighbors. I am grateful for people that I rarely know but make a visit to the gym, the supermarket or other places I frequent, a joy.
  • My health – , I am grateful for my general good health. I am grateful to have the ability to do what I like – yoga, run, exercise, hike, etc. I am grateful that I don’t suffer from any underlining conditions.

Your turn.

December 7, 2021

#108 Coffee with John: Resilience

Get over it!

So you lost your mother when you were young, get over it. You broke up with your partner a year ago and you are still talking about it, get over it! You are not happy with your job and all you do is complain about it, get over it! You are angry because you didn’t get this or that, get over it! GET. OVER.IT!

Whatever the situation or difficult circumstances, my default attitude/motto was “get over it and move on.”This attitude served me well in dealing with loss and the inevitable moves, heartaches, new beginnings, and gain and losses that challenges all of us at some point in our lives

I mistook this as resilience. This Coffee with John meeting had me reexamine this guiding principle so central to my core. If we look at the definition of the word in an initial Google search, we come up with: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”

Strictly speaking, I was not mistaken in conflating “get over it” with resilience. But we need a more expansive definition, one that includes empathy, forgiveness, vulnerability, patience, joy, and compassion. We mistake neutrality, ignoring emotions, pushing people away, and closing our hearts with being tough.

On the contrary, toughness/resilience takes courage to sit with the uncomfortable, let go of anger, feel the emotions, face the hard conversations, ask for assistance, and open our hearts to kindness and love: as much as for yourselves and others experiencing some sort of calamity.

Don’t get me wrong though. What I can’t tolerate still is the victim mentality. I firmly believe losses, traumas, hardships, and challenges do not control us. We can take the reins. Instead of “get over it” let’s turn that into “how can this serve me and help my journey in becoming a better person for ourselves and those around us.” Make a loss a path for healing in a way that is compassionate.

While I can’t speak of how my coffee mate for CWJ#08 handles adversity, what I see as an outsider is an individual that has turned her life at various points, facing insurmountable hardships and challenges with laughter, humor, and fearless tenacity. She has overcome language barriers, bounced back and surpassed personal and family sagas, and started a new life in the United States after enjoying a successful naval career in her native Colombia. She continues forging ahead taking on new challenges and exploring new paths, including acting and modeling, with admirable grit.

We can all take inspiration from those around us on how they have internalized resilience.

#107 Coffee with John: Dating, Friendships, and Explorations

Lean into possibilities.

How many times do we dismiss invitations to new experiences either because of fear of newness or because something doesn’t fit our mold/expectations? From the small stuff to more hefty decisions, we are quick no say no and stay within the conform of our routines and what we know.

No to a party. No to a networking event. No to a last-minute invitation. No to hanging out with new people outside our established network. No to forgiveness. No to uncertainty. No to…you fill in the blank.

I am the first to tell you that I am guilty of it and will probably say no to many things that challenge my comfort zone. Yet, I have, especially in the last few years, leaned in more in the positive direction: saying yes and conquering many inhibitions.

Yes to opening my heart again. Yes to improv classes. Yes to new friendships. Yes to traveling more. Yes to events. Yes to engaging people and activities I would have dismissed in the past.

The positives outweigh any, if any, negatives as a result of being open to the “new” experiences.

Inspired by her recent journey and my relationship with her, my coffee mate for this round is a prime example. We met on a dating app. While I can’t speak on her behalf, I think it’s a safe bet to say that we both didn’t feel a romantic connection. It could have been easy to go our separate ways with the usual pleasantries and the empty promise of a friendship. Yet, for over a year now, we have kept and leaned into that promise of cultivating a friendship, inviting each other into our lives, sharing interests, dating experiences, and life and adventure stories. I have another such friend that I meant while I was in the dating online world.

Don’t get the wrong impression here. I haven’t befriended everyone that I had met on dating sites nor do I offer my friendship that readily. Still, the times I have and people have reciprocated, the dividends have been tenfold. I don’t know if those friendships will endure the passage of time. All I know for this moment is that my horizons have expanded with new knowledge, music, social networks, and friendships.

My coffee mate is on her own journey of leaning into possibilities, exploring untapped relationships and potentials. I am not proposing for you to follow my path. Forge your way and delve into possibilities in different areas of your life. Say yes to something that you have put aside for a while or keep saying no to. You never know where the journey will lead you. Let’s challenge ourselves to explore and see possibilities where we normally don’t.

106 Coffee with John: Serendipitous Meeting

How many times can you say that you have randomly met a person who has been published in the popular The New York Times Modern Love section, a column you secretly had been eyeing to submit your story? 

I have the American essayist and humorist David Sedaris to thank for bringing our paths together.

Having read a few of his books and seen Sedaris live once, prompted me to ask my fellow passenger on a recent flight from NYC to NC about his latest book resting on her lap.

That started the conversation, veering into her telling me that she had read the book resting on the side of my aisle, The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick.

At that point, I knew this was not your ordinary passenger leisurely reading. She was one of my people, a fellow kindred spirit. The Situation and the Story is a title I had recently acquired thanks to, wait for it, Modern Love. You are probably saying, “what!?”

Exactly my thought when she told me that she had read Gornick’s book. I did a double “what” when she told me she had come across it the same way I had: reading submission tips by Daniel Jones, the editor of Modern Love.  After that discovery, she gracefully shared that her story had been published in that famous column.

Do you know how big of a deal that is? According to the stats by the editor, they receive about 5,000 submissions a year. Only 1% percent lands a spot!

It’s a huge deal, indeed. Aside from signifying that you have a way with words, it signals that a major altering event has shaped your past or current life.

My subsequent Coffee with John meeting with my fellow passenger/kindred spirit a few weeks later after our encounter made me think of the consequential questions/circumstances we deal with at different stages of our lives, questions that no matter how old you are or where you are in your life are never welcome. 

From dealing with unrequited love, betrayal, health issues, loss of loved ones, or loss of self, we are all going to face a wrecking; it is inevitable. The important answer to those questions or situations is how we deal with them at the moment or within the subsequent years.

Do we lose ourselves in the question(s)? Do our identities become bigger than the circumstances? Do we drown and bring others down with us as we are challenged to emerge from dark waters? Do we triumph at the end with dignity and grace? Do we let anger, fear, mistrust, or whatever the accompanying emotions mark, rule, and dictate our actions for years to come?

Not sure if there is a definite answer to any of those. Unscathed we will not be but, as we make our way through the murkiness of life, perhaps we need to go through different iterations to find a path closer to the better versions of ourselves. Whatever our journey, I find that we are never truly alone. We all have shared experiences where we can find a moment of connection, helping us in our pilgrimage.

In that spirit, I  encourage you to read the powerful and moving Modern Love story my fellow passenger wrote. Maybe, as you dive and lean into her story, you can find answers and a path to questions facing you.

#105 Coffee with John: Finding Inspiration

inspiration – noun

in·spi·ra·tion/ˌinspəˈrāSH(ə)n/ : something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

The journey of discovering or coming across moments that spark and infuse inspiration can be a fickle mistress.

Not always the case, but a combination of love, loss, heartbreak, despair, turmoil, chaos, anguish can all serve as that flame and spark opening a path for us to take that step into creativity. At least in my experience, it seems the muses visit when we are wrestling with moments that test us.

The need to connect with others to deal with grief gave birth to Coffee with John. The interactions I have had fuel the continuation of this journey. What I find humbling as well is that the premise of this project, that of connecting with others, can go beyond myself: inspiring others to take a similar path to deal with their journeys.

That’s what prompted my last coffee mate to meet me. She came across my project through Facebook and wanted to learn more about my journey to perhaps adopt the idea as she wrestled with a series of personal setbacks including the loss of loved ones.

I don’t know what she has done since we last met a few weeks back now. All I can say is that if my journey can inspire others, I am honored to serve as a spark.

In the fickleness of inspiration, the funny thing is that we never know how our actions and how we choose to live our lives can inspire others.

What inspires you? Who inspires you? Where do you find inspiration?