Buy The Man A Coffee

651. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I was all night at the studio. When I spend the night in the studio I become gushingly grateful for the Starbucks that opens at 6:30am. It is only a few blocks away and I staggered the distance and collapsed on the counter. They know me so I didn’t have to speak – a good thing because I was desperate beyond words – and the nice baristas tilted back my head and poured the rejuvenating elixir into my mouth. My dad used to call coffee “the nectar of the gods” and on mornings like this I am certain that there is nothing more true in the entire universe. Soon I was sitting upright at the corner table, holding my enormous coffee cup with both hands, watching the early morning commuters’ bustle in on their way to work. “How can anyone bustle at this time of day?” I pondered feeling vaguely assaulted by the brisk pace of business.

In the far corner of the café, slightly hidden by the holiday products display, a man was sleeping. Like me, he was holding his cup with both hands but I could tell, even from across the café, that he’d pulled a used cup from the garbage, maybe several days ago; his cup hadn’t seen coffee in some time. His head had fallen backwards, his mouth was wide open, and he was snoring. The other customers pretended he wasn’t there. A barista tried to wake him but he was sleeping the sleep of someone, like me, who’d been up all night but unlike me, he’d been out in the cold and freezing rain. He believed his paper cup gave him admission to be inside; if he could not afford to be a patron he’d pretend to have coffee and hope no one would notice – at least until he was warm. I’m certain it was not in his plan to sleep but the truth of his exhaustion took over.

The police came. They were about to call the paramedics when the exhausted man blinked open his eyes and, confused, not knowing where he was, so deep was his sleep, that he jumped up. The police tensed as if facing a threat and almost as an act of unconscious surrender, the man sat back down. Then he recognized where he was, groaned and looked for his cup. It was gone, and with it, his hope for staying warm. “Are you alright?” the cop asked. He was kind. The man nodded his head, “I fell asleep I guess,” he said. The cop nodded his head. “Do you need some help? Can we take you somewhere?” The man shook his head, apologized to the police, pulled his coat around himself, and walked out into the wet dark morning.

“Is he alright?” a barista asked. The cop wanted to say, “No!” but instead looked out the door and said, “I guess so. He’s gone.” The cops went to their next call. The bustle resumed. Genuine concern eclipsed only by the needs of commerce. None of us transcended our inability to connect with the real human need even in the midst of this season of giving. We betray so much in the actions that we do not take and the things we do not say.

Sitting at my corner table I remembered a phrase that I learned last week from Kevin Honeycutt. He was talking about doing anything and everything to change the culture that produces bullies. He called it – us – The Mean Culture. Bullies are not the aberration that we like to pretend; they are an expression of cultural value, dog-eat-dog-business-is-business and all of that. Sometimes the beating is subtle, more public, and so commonplace as to be invisible amidst the hustle and bustle. Sometimes changing the mean culture can begin with something as simple as buying a man a cup of coffee or perhaps simply letting him sleep.

2 Responses

  1. So sad that no one in there offered to buy him a cup, which would have legitimized his being in the shop and given him warmth and comfort. What are we doing here on this planet if not to offer some comfort to each other? We’re so afraid of poverty. Afraid perhaps it’s contagious.

  2. […] Today is a great day to participate in this timeless human custom of paying it forward. Maybe pre-purchase a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line? Better yet, buy a gift card for the barista to use when someone down on their luck comes in and can’t afford a beverage at all. […]

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