observations of community

In the span of six days, I have had the opportunity to visit two different food establishments… and I had two very different experiences. My mind has been turning these things over and over ever since.

Last week, while my children were at school for the morning, I went to a fairly new local coffee shop to sip a warm drink and read a good book. I also happened to take notice of the space and the people around me. Scattered about the room at small tables, were people who had obviously come in together and were visiting over food and drink. There was a TV on the wall, with the volume turned low– some people were catching up on the news that was broadcast there. Others were alone, engrossed in a book like myself, or concentrating fiercely on their computer screens. The atmosphere was intimate, private, small, quiet… even the colors were earth-toned and added to the muted feeling in the room. I actually went there specifically because I wanted to “mute” my life a little bit, even just for an hour or two. I wanted to crawl into my own private space and have some reprieve from the chatter and activity of my daily life as mom. It was perfect for that.

This morning could not have been more different! Ben and I had spent an hour running some errands and I decided on a whim to treat him to a mother-son brunch date at a local restaurant. The place I happened to pick has a long history in our area. It has changed management a few times over the years, but remains one of the “places of choice” among the older generation… and it’s known for good food. When we walked up the ramp to the restaurant entrance, Ben remarked, “Wow, mom, this place is fancy. Look at the flowers on the carpet. Look at the lights, mom! Wow!” I smiled– this place is NOT fancy, but why not let him think so? It made him happy. We were seated and I began looking around myself. There was a lot of light, Ben was right. And the colors were bright– pale blues and off-whites and even some sprinkles of pink here and there. As I mentioned earlier, the clientele tended to be older although there were some young moms and dads with little ones in tow. Quite a few customers wanted to chat with myself and Ben, asked him his age and what special occasion had him out with his mom on a Tuesday morning. The folks who were leaving and arriving had lively and friendly conversations with many of the staff, especially one worker who was carefully sorting creamers and jellies for each of the tables. He had a 40th birthday coming up and was handing out flyers to that effect. He was getting more hugs, handshakes and smiles than I could count. His downs syndrome was all but invisible. As I observed the love in the room and felt it brushing up against even me, I let the busy errand-running morning float away and took a deep breath. This was family; maybe not biologically but certainly at heart.

When we left for the car, the contrast popped into my mind. These two places– both serve coffee and food, both employ servers and cooks, both have tables and chairs where people gather for conversation, both had lights and doors and bathrooms and paint on their walls, cash registers, kitchens, you name it. There was even a sense of community at both places, certainly so (and I do not mean to sound critical of the first establishment- I love it there!). But it was different at the second restaurant… so obviously different. It’s almost beyond my ability to describe in words, but I’ll say this: if I was lonely or feeling unsafe or needing some grounding in the middle of a chaotic life, I’d go to the second restaurant. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it was like a reunion in there, almost like the church pot-lucks I grew up attending. Is it just that there were some older folks in there, is that why I feel this way? Or is it that the folks who go to this place, regardless of their age, hold some secret to grounded and family-like community that the folks at the newer hip coffee shops know nothing about yet? Is technology the difference– there was no TV and I didn’t see anyone with laptops at the second place? I’m not sure. But I know that when I need a mute-button for my life, I’ll visit the first. When I need family, I’ll go to the second. Just my observation of community.

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