Belonging

A nonfat, decaf latte please. Is that a nondescript enough drink? Sometimes I just don’t want to stand out so much. Just blend in. Belong. Be like everyone else.

Jessi at 17 wearing a 1 of a kind grad dress with pride
Jessi at 17 wearing a 1 of a kind graduation dress with pride

I remember the date because it was the day I started dating my husband, Jeff. December 27th we were in a big conference center in Chicago for a teen convention. Thousands of teens were there and we were part of a singing group that would perform that first night. Jeff told me the other girls in the group were in their room and pointed the way to the elevators so I could join them.

You’d think that’d be easy but  there were escalators  that led up to the bank of elevators. Those escalators were the only way up and I am always terrified that I’ll miss the first step on those things and fall on my face or that my toes will get eaten at the top. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it looks like the gliding stairs are just for the purpose of moving items/people into the steel mouth of the upper floor. I have had my flip flop get caught in one of these at an airport in Kenya and ended up with a bloody toe so I know what I am talking about.

I made it to the top with no carnage (though I will admit to causing a small traffic jam as I waited to get the timing of the movement in my head and gathered courage to step on.) The worst was still to come. You see – there were 6 elevators and only 4 sets of buttons with up and down arrows. There were no labels so I didn’t know which elevator went to which floor or which buttons ran which elevator. But, how hard could it be? I was sure I would figure it out – I’m a fairly smart girl after all. So, I stood and watched. Everyone else seemed to know just what they were doing. They would confidently walk up and push a button and a door would open. But there didn’t seem to be a pattern as to which one. I’d see the numbers changing showing what floor the elevator was on but I couldn’t see any consistency as to which elevator went to which floor.

I finally had to go get Jeff to help me. Me – a 17 year old young woman and I needed help  to get on an elevator. I’m sure it’s obvious to you  that any  button would run any  elevator and it would take me to any  floor. I bet there are lots of things that are obvious to you  that don’t know yet. But do you know the best kind of weather to catch flying ants in? Yeah – didn’t think so. Forget about being like everyone else. I’ll have a Mayan mocha with whipped cream.

 

It’s About Meeting

 

jeff and seth having coffee

“I’ll meet you for coffee…”

We all know that’s not what I mean. We almost never meet for the coffee. Sometimes we don’t even drink coffee at these coffee meetings because it’s the New Year and we are on some cleanse or something. But I have totally fallen in love with coffee times.

If you draw the continent of Africa and put a dot smack dab in the middle, you won’t be far from where I grew up. We went back to visit because I wanted my husband, Jeff, to feel the spongy grass under his feet at the airstrip and bounce over what passes as a dirt road. I wanted to climb over barb wire fences and walk through the cow pastures to market with him. But I never expected that there, in the middle of Africa, we’d discover the value of meeting for coffee.

There, you see, people just stop by. Abruhamu’s face was deeply lined when I was a child but when he stopped by for coffee he looked exactly the same as he always had even though I now had children of my own. He shook his finger at me telling me I was a daughter of Africa but I didn’t come back enough and I didn’t know the language well enough and I didn’t eat enough.

I didn’t know the language well but I did know enough to hear the welcome in that reprimanding finger and those half accusing words. He was yelling at me, but not for what I was doing – for the fact that I hadn’t done it sooner. So I sipped my tea in the smoky kitchen and watched him shuffle to a wooden chair. When he was settled, I brought over his cup and he put in so much sugar I knew it’d never dissolve. He sighed as he took a sweet sip then settled in to tell me his stories – stories of my dad as a kid, stories of his kids and their kids, stories no one else could tell in quite the same way.

When Jeff and I got back to New York, memories of connectedness over coffee fresh in our minds, we went out and bought 2 beautiful mugs. We planned on starting our own tradition of coffee times together. We still have our coffee times but now it looks a little different. Now our 4 teenagers join us in the early morning. Over coffee, we usually discover we have forgotten some school event, or are short one vehicle to get someone to work. Now we mock each other, argue, and laugh together- but we make it happen. Because we realize it’s not about the coffee –it’s about the meeting.