The introvert, my penultimate meeting, and the extrovert, my most recent.
The former, a self-proclaimed introvert, did not mind aspects of the pandemic. Acknowledging her good fortune – health, economic stability, and other blessings in her life – the circumstances of social distancing and the limited social engagements provided opportunities for personal healing, self-discovery, relaxation, discovery, and a much welcomed slower pace of life.
On the other hand, the self-proclaimed introvert, also aware and grateful of her good fortunes, had a different experience. The pandemic provided a set of unwelcome challenges and tribulations.
Two experiences through different lenses.
The experience of meeting these two incredibly warm and grounded, yet different individuals highlighted and reminded me of the importance of connecting with others.
No matter how we experience, sense, or interact with the world, making connections at the individual or at levels that fit our comfort level nourishes the spirit.
Both of them ventured to meet and connect with me for the first time. Our respective interactions provided a point of accentuation – a break in our daily lives inviting us into a journey of laughter, conversation, and discovery.
Hearing their divergent experiences opened my own lens of understanding, compassion, and sympathy/empathy.
It is easy to isolate, get caught in our daily routines, or stay in our lane without venturing to talk to strangers or meet up with different communities from ours. The challenge is to get over those hurdles. Jumping over those obstacles is a personal journey but I bet the introvert and the extrovert in you will appreciate the leap.
This post showed up on my Facebook Memories recently, conjuring up bittersweet memories of what seems like a lifetime ago.
A sentiment that comes across is the immense gratitude for all the people that supported and carried us through those difficult times.
So many to fully and properly acknowledge, from the team of doctors, nurses and hospice workers who showed compassion and care, friends who accompanied my wife to her chemo sessions, the folks that started meal trains and fundraising campaigns, to those that were there to console me when my wife passed.
In between, there are so many people that helped my family and myself get through. I will forever be thankful to the kindness, love, generosity and love we were grateful to receive.
The 100th meet-up! I have arrived at a point of accentuation, a milestone in a journey leading to connections, both old and new in many senses of the word.
I could not have planned for a better companion for this benchmark in my ultimate goal of 150 coffee meet-ups with different people. We caught up for about an hr, talking about our daily lives, kids, and nothing in particular. I typically don’t go into details about my coffee mates but, making the exception here, let me introduce you.
She is a Vassar graduate, an MBA from the University of Michigan, Goldman Sachs alumna, author, consultant, board member of countless organizations, international speaker, the first woman to serve as CEO of the Dominican Republic Stock Exchange (BVRD), making her the first woman to hold such a position in Latin America.
If that was not impressive enough, I am honored and privileged to announce that my coffee mate for my 100th CWJ is at 52 years old getting ready to embark on obtaining a master’s in public administrations from Harvard University. Not only has she gotten accepted into the program, but she has also received the prestigious Presidential Kennedy Fellowship awarded on merit.
But most of all she is my sister-in-law. Our connection is that of shared memories, blood connection between her children and my son, and our deep love for her sister, my wife. We are bounded by an invisible thread of kinship. It is that human connection that transcends the accomplishments, accolades, successes, and all those identifiers/qualifiers/modifiers we carry around as our identities.
On paper, I find we are sometimes intimidated to talk or even approach a person we see with an impressive resume or a life filled with accomplishments after accomplishments, placing them on a pedestal and forgetting that we are all humans with a capacity to bond with each other, even for brief moments. The opposite can also be true where we are the ones thinking we are above a certain level to converse or bond with a person not within our social strata.
We all share that magical thread, the thread of love, suffering, experiencing loss, and all the emotions that makes us human. It is that space where I find beauty in sharing a moment and a conversation. Hope you too find that beautiful space as you step out of yourself and connect with others.
A whole month plus since I had Coffee with John # 101.
Since then, I have gone to Florida and Virginia, visited Asheville thrice and other places in between here and there. I have celebrated another year around the sun, a double celebration as my son and I share birthdays.
To say the least, it has been a busy month of adventures, gatherings, and all sorts of celebrations and commemorations.
What wonderful reasons to postpone an entry that I had written in my mind the minute my conversation with my mate for my Coffee with John #101 had ended. Wonderful in that they are all little gifts life has afforded me. The gifts of traveling, sharing with loved ones, and rejoicing in magical, special moments.
Special moments like the last meeting in my journey of reaching 150 coffees. Meeting 101, a gift of its own, came via coffee mate #98 — the sister of a dear friend from my yoga community who I had not met before our coffee.
What stroke me from this last meeting was the beauty of granting your essence to another; that pure, wondrous gift you bring to this world.
Here a self-proclaimed introvert shared an hour of her time with a stranger. Among conversation about this and that, she broke out a beautiful ukulele her mother had given her as a gift following a family tradition to mend broken hearts. She played her song and sang a melodious tune with a soft, rich voice. As the hour came to an end, we said farewell and ended the conversation. Those transient are the little gifts life grants and are only possible when we open to receiving and giving. One of the most valuable commodities you possess is the light you bring. Play your song and share it.
What do I do with the stories people tell me over these meetings? What do I write about after each meeting?
Since those questions have come up on some of my last meetups, let me address them as part of this entry.
Honestly, aside from perhaps informing my write-ups and giving me a window into those joining me, rarely do I write directly about what people tell me. Also, while there are exemptions, rarely do identify my coffee mates
No matter the subject, I treat the conversations as an intimate moment shared among two people. I don’t interview people nor do I feel I am in the position to share other people’s stories.
So what do I write about? Sometimes is about a feeling, an idea sparked by the conversation, or a reflection ignited by my feelings and the experience at the moment. Sometimes the ideas come immediately, and other times,it takes me sitting on and punctuating what I got out of the interaction.
Ultimately, I want to focus on a positive theme/concept inspired by the meeting.
Speaking of, the theme that jumped out to me the most from CWJ#99 is that of resilience. I am always amazed to hear how people have overcome the cards that life has given them.
Stressful, traumatic, and painful events can mark you. Those experiences can lead us to a destructive path or a place where we can’t move from, rendering us stuck in unhealthy patterns, relationships, and emotions of fear, anxiety and stress.
The challenge is always to turn adversity into a beautiful question or quest that goes beyond ourselves, fear, sadness, resentment, guilt, anxiety, or whatever negative emotions we carry into different aspects of our lives.
With all the trauma brought upon the pandemic, that is a challenge we as a collective may be wrestling with as we move into a new norm. I am not going to offer any answers. What I will say is that I hope part of the answers include a path full of discoveries where we can all explore the many big and small possibilities life offers each day, leading to better relations with others and ourselves.
For inspiration, as we all look for a path of resilience, I encourage you to check out the self-published book of poetry (currently only available in Spanish) by Kurma Murrain, my coffee mate for this round. Also, you may check out her blog to learn more about this Colombian native making a mark as a poet and community advocate in Charlotte, NC.
My hope is that poetry and discovering your voice and the artist within you become part of your healing and tools of resilience.
“Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take…“
Coffee with John #98 reminded me of the first lines in David Whyte’s poem, “Start Close In.”
98 coffees later and I still get nervous at times when I am meeting a person for the first time. Will the conversation go well? Will I be able to be present and be somewhat coherent? Will I make a fool out of myself? What if things don’t go well or become awkward?
How many times do we let those types of doom-like questions prevent us from taking that step we don’t want to take? From saying “I love you,” drawing a will, having a difficult conversation with another or yourself, going out to a venue by yourself, taking a class, to launching a new business, we have so many areas in our personal and professional lives where taking that initial, first step can completely enrich and alter our lives, even for a brief moment. Yet, how many times do we not take that crucial step, completely limiting our experiences and sabotaging ourselves out of fear or nervousness?
I have over the years taking that stet I so dreaded in different areas of my life. For the most part, the rewards have been ten-fold. Yoga comes to mind as an example. I had always wanted to do it but it took a friend of my wife to accompany me to the first few classes before yoga became a staple in my life. Taking that step has led to many friendships and experiences, including this round of coffee.
I know I have many aspects of my life where I need to nudge myself still to take that step I don’t want to take. Avoiding conflict to keep “the peace” is one of those. In some areas taking that first step is easier than others. Other times, it takes a lot more mustering. And, of course, we all have circumstances where we might need to take that first time many times over before we get grounded.
I invite you to join me in challenging yourself in taking that step in an area in your life – take that step you don’t want to take. In an area of your life that you see as the appropriate time, with courage and love, take your own step on your terms.
And here we arrive back at that original magical seven, a number that has inspired and led to my fury of wonderful, surprising last rounds of coffee meetups.
Ain’t it funny how in life, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart, we end up returning, willingly or unexpectedly, to that original place/spot that we had sworn to all the gods that never again – never again to date, fall in love, trust another with our emotions, or be such a foolish romantic.
No other area in our lives do we have so little control over (okay, perhaps hyperbole but entertain me here). Once our brains are on that high of estrogen, testosterone, endorphin, dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, we are hopeless. Our sense of logic, constrain and whatever else we think makes us rational beings, all go out the window. Our reaction at times is to run away from it. Other times, we rush into it fully invested with no reins.
Sure, I have encountered many that have vowed not to date, completely giving up hope on finding a partner. And not a temporary pause to take care of themselves or other pending and pressing matters, but altogether. I applaud their conviction. Still, when the time strikes, it is magical to fall under that reckless spell of love and attraction, putting our hearts and ourselves at risk of heartbreak.
We might not all agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous words, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” but the wonder of love is indeed magical and worth the pursuit of that beautiful quest, even if fleeting and the risks high. I say rush into and collide, whole-heartedly.
In addition to an enrienching conversation and many takeaways, my coffee mate for this round reminded me of the beauty of finding ourselves back at that gripping equation of love at different stages of our lives time, and time again with many personal adventures and tribulations in between.