During my co-op visit last week, I found myself standing in the coffee aisle, trying to decide which coffee beans I wanted to purchase. I knew I wanted decaf, and I knew I was going to buy it from one of the local roasters, but I wanted to peruse a bit. (I am someone who peruses a lot before making any sort of decision, even when I’m going to end up buying the same thing I always do. This sometimes frustrates other people who go shopping with me.)
Beside me, directly in front of the bulk coffee canisters, was a man and a woman. The man was in a wheelchair, and together they were discussing the types of coffee available and occasionally filling a paper coffee bag with beans. (At one point they were emptying the bag back into the coffee container–a feat I had never seen accomplished before.)
It is not important to the story that the man was in a wheelchair, but I mention it specifically here because, of course, at the time I noticed. Not only did I notice, but I made note of it. I thought, “That man is in a wheelchair.” As if there was nothing else important about him.
I point it out to you because we do this sort of thing all the time, and usually we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Until something out of the ordinary happens.
Soon the woman noticed me and suggested to the man that he move out of my way. I told them to stay put, that they weren’t in the way. (Actually, they were, but I didn’t mind because, like I said, I was just perusing.) I stood there for a few more seconds, and then the man asked me what I was looking for, if I was trying to find a particular kind of coffee. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, and I told him so.
Then the “something” happened. I unknowingly stepped over the line that divides chit-chat and conversation.
I said, “I want something decaf, but it looks like there are only two options,” and then I pointed at the two options. Well, he wanted to help me look. So we both looked. Then he asked me what kind of coffee I liked. What I normally bought. If I had tried French roast before. If the flavored coffee I normally bought had a really strong, overwhelming flavor or just a hint of flavor. And was it a dark roast. Did I prefer dark roasts. If I’d ever had the fresh coffee at the Saturday market downtown. How I would describe the sorts of coffees I liked.
I didn’t know how to say the honest truth, that I don’t have a very discerning coffee palate and nobody should trust my opinion on these matters. I notice when coffee is really good and when it’s really bad, but the nuances in-between? Not so much.
Well, over the next few minutes, I responded to each of his questions as they came, politely asked him about the roasts he liked, filled up a container I’d brought with the coffee I’d intended to buy the whole time, wished him luck in his own coffee pursuits, and said goodbye.
I wasn’t in a hurry, annoyed, or feeling particularly antisocial. Still, the interaction for all intents and purposes was a waste of time. I ended up buying the coffee I’d planned to from the beginning, the kind I always buy. And I’ll never see this person again. I don’t know his name. We won’t become Facebook friends.
But it wasn’t a waste.
It was a conversation.
And the truth is, I’m pretty sure that a conversation is really what he wanted all along. Not my coffee preferences or recommendations.
Conversation. Connection. Community.
It’s really what we all want, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.