Sometimes You’re Just Not Feeling like Community

I  missed an opportunity this morning. What’s worse, I was totally aware that I was missing it and just didn’t feel like doing anything about it.

During my office hours, I took a five minute break to go and grab a (yes, decaf) coffee. So, with a note on my door for the very-rare-chance a student would drop by, I was rushed, trying to get back before my five minutes were up.

Of course there was somebody at the coffee counter who ordered a specialty drink rather than the pump-your-own coffee. I waited behind her patiently. She made chitchat about how cold it was and how you just needed to drink something hot. I agreed. Yes. Very cold outside. Yes. Hot drink.

Finally, the coffee worker paused with the other order while the espresso was dripping (or whatever it does) and took my order, gave me my empty pump-it-yourself cup, and let me pay. The other woman was still waiting for her drink while I struggled to get my coffee pumped because the decaf cannister has pressure issues (since only old fogies and me drink the decaf, nobody has complained about it yet) and only little spurts of coffee come out. This woman decided to  make chitchat about my struggle to get the coffee out, suggesting that maybe it is empty. I know that it’s not, so I tell her so. Then she asks me where my office is and what I do in our building. Then she asks me what I’m studying.

I do not feel like chatting with her, so I give her the shortest and least informative answers I could manage while struggling with the coffee pump thing. I tell her that I’m in English (she says many of her best friends are English grad students) and that I don’t have a clue what I want to study. Pump. She doesn’t really believe me, so I tell her I have liked just about everything I’ve studied. Pump. She is silent. I feel guilty, and even though I really need to go get back in the elevator to get back to my students-who-never-come-to-office-hours-anyway, I ask her what she does in our building, since I’d never seen her before and she seemed so oddly chatty. (Most people in my building don’t chat, especially not at the coffee counter.)

She answered, but I didn’t pay much attention, and then her coffee was ready, so I jumped at the opportunity of distraction and left.

As I was riding back up in the elevator, I started thinking about our conversation, brief though it was. Maybe she was just being friendly, but it felt like more than that, more like she was trying to connect with someone. She told me she was here on a post-doc, so maybe she hadn’t met many folks yet and was seriously making an effort. Maybe I was one of many people who were too busy to be friends. Maybe. It’s the end of the semester. Who could blame me? Well.

Sometimes you’re just not feeling like community.

But I don’t think that makes it okay.

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4 comments on “Sometimes You’re Just Not Feeling like Community

  1. Elizabeth's Dad says:

    I too have walked away from someone only to wonder why I didn’t say more or be a little more friendly or just take some more time. Not a good feeling when it is too late. Missed opportunity for both of us. Why do we think our time is more important? Yet, at times like yours, we have an obligation to our employers. Hard to balance? Yes, but maybe it is not as much about time as it is our attitudes. I am still trying to figure it all out.

  2. elizabeth says:

    Dad,
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, as the cliche goes. You wrote, “It’s not so much about time as it is our attitudes.” In this particular case, thirty seconds or a minute could have established a connection with this person, an exchange of contact information, heck, at least an exchange of names.

    But we can only do that if we step outside of our own little worlds for thirty seconds–and that can be more difficult than we want to admit!

  3. Anna says:

    I had an experience of not feeling like community this morning at the gym…actually, make that every time I go to the gym. Although, now that I think about it, maybe I’m wrong about that. I wonder if perhaps there is a definite line between community and socializing. Does community necessarily involve conversation and social niceties? What are the essential elements that must be present in order to have “community”? I say this because although the last thing I want to do in my early morning sweaty hour of ugliness is have a conversation with someone, I do sense a kind of community going on there. I feel a kinship with these other smelly, perspiring, folks. I don’t want to get to know these people, make friends with them, or invite them to dinner, and yet they are my community somehow. Is it because we are all struggling and suffering alongside one another? What makes a community a community?

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