It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I find myself unexpectedly with an open hour, close enough to my children’s school that it makes no sense to go home. I consider my options: it’s too cold to merely sit in a parking lot and wait the time out. And then it comes to me: my favorite Starbucks is merely five minutes away! Should I spend the money? Should I consume more caffeine? I remembered tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and my husband and I are giving up sugar and dairy products for two weeks, to begin the Lenten season. And that seals it: yes, caffeine, with milk and sugar.
I fully recognize that Starbucks can be completely annoying, and this Starbucks, especially, can be completely annoying. But it has saved my life a few times, too, a living room that is not my living room, with no one needing me. Last week, I read a book there, cover to cover, without moving except for my friendly barrister putting up the chairs around me near closing time.
“Do I need to move?” I asked.
“Nah, not til you get to the last page,” he answered. “How close are you?”
“Three pages,” I answered.
“No problem. Read on.” This is the guy I see here on his day off, too, working his way through graduate school at the seminary down the road. We’ve discussed Kierkegaard—we are like old pals, now.
This Starbucks can be a little strange, as it is often populated with seminary students. It is not unusual to overhear students preparing sermons, holding a Bible study, praying out loud in that earnest evangelical way. It’s endearing and somewhat homey to me, as I have some seminary coursework and spiritual focus in my background. And it’s a little weird, when contrasted with most conversations at most Starbucks, which I think are unlikely to be centered on subjects of theology, nine days out of ten.
So I walk in, and miraculously, there are seats available. I order a giant caramel macchiato in a mug, and just as the barrister calls my name, the cushy seats by the fireplace open up. And just as I sit down with my steaming mug, and pull out my journal to note some notes, Aretha Franklin begins playing on the sound system, “You’re a no-good heart-breaker,” All this and Aretha, too? If God was pleading with us to return to him, he would sound like Aretha, like we are no-good heart-breakers that he cannot bear to lose. That’s my kind of theology, the kind I feel in my bones.
Did they know I was coming? Did they know I needed respite, power, caffeine and the breath of the Holy Spirit? “Kiss me once again my darlin’, don’t you never, never say that we’re through, I ain’t never… never… never loved a man the way that I, I love you.”
I put away my journal, my pen, my reading glasses and prop my feet up by the fire. I close my eyes and skip all pretense of doing anything constructive, and sip my coffee slowly and deliberately, meditating on one pleasure after another, sweetness, darkness, bitterness, warmth, gifts, and my favorite thing about Starbucks: the feeling that I am utterly unnecessary to the functioning of the world, for a few lovely moments. My only work is not to sing along at the top of my lungs, for the sake of other customers.
“You really know this song,” the barrister-Kierkegaard fella says.
“Aretha,” I say, shaking my head.
“It’s a soul mix,” he says. So it is, for me, too.