She swiped it. She palmed it right off the counter in one fluid movement, turned on her heel, and shouldered her way out through the door into the fall sunshine. If she weren’t flesh and blood and ponytail and puffy jacket and Uggs you would have sworn she was a ghost, a fiction in the way she breezed through the busy café, barely leaving an imprint of any kind.
But I saw her. I heard the barista call out her mocha-frappa-latte-cino order. I heard him pronounce the name scrawled on the side of the cup (not an easy feat. I have claimed more than my share of drinks inscribed with what looks like that symbol that Prince briefly used as his name). I watched him nod at her, smile, thank her for her order, wish her a nice day. I saw her cruise up to the counter, grab her cup without so much as a glance in his general direction, without even the slightest tilt of the head, a sort of nervous tick turned cordial head bob, without even a douchebag, two fingers over the shoulder kind of “cool ‘bro and adios” gesture. Nothing.
The system is breaking down, kiddos. When we can’t even bother to acknowledge the fellow human on the other side of the counter slinging our food, pouring our drinks, or bagging up our useless junk made in China then game over, an iceberg is the least of the Titanic’s concerns. We all want and need to be seen and received. This, I have come to realize, is the key, the Holy Grail, the code that Jack Bauer is always screaming at Chloe to fork over, the secret in the secret sauce of life. Fine, send out your intentions for love, happiness, success, health, cool friends, an untaxable bank account in the Cayman Islands, a standing dinner invitation with Beyonce and George Clooney—valid life-wants all. But none of these things are possible if we are unwilling to see, to be seen, and to receive one another.
We all want to know we have value, we want to feel that we matter; we want confirmation that we’re taking up significant space, that we count, that we are here and that fact alone is worth noting. It’s pretty fundamental and requires no money down, so why is it so hard? What would it have cost the girl to smile at the barista or to at least make eye contact and nod in kind?
I wish I knew because I’m a fixer and a helper and it would feel great to check this one off the list right behind “ridding the world of hate” and “putting an end to poverty.” Maybe we’re all scared of the responsibility that comes with being seen and received. Maybe it’s too much pressure to connect, to recognize your own humanity in another person, to either silently or audibly apply the most powerful cosmic duct tape in the universe, the one forged out of the words “me too.”
I think it’s worth the risk. I think when we recognize that we occupy the same spaces—of love, fear, joy, anxiety, disease, health, weakness, strength—that’s when real change, healing, and growth take place. Bad news, kiddos: there’s no app for this kind of soul-level work. There’s no hack or Spark Notes to make the journey easier or less intense on our hearts, but I also think that’s the point. You can’t see if you’re not willing to look, you can’t receive if you’re not willing to show up fully.
This is truth. There’s not much I lay claim to in that department, tiny mortal that I be, but this….this feels like the real deal on a spirit meets bone level. So you can certainly say “thanks but no thanks, I’ll just be over here on my iPhone, enjoying life from my comfortable, sunny spot while the rest of you figure it out,” which is what coffee girl did that day. Fair enough. Opting out is certainly your right. But missing out…missing out is everyone’s loss.