“Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” Annie Dillard
The guy at the counter orders a long black with cream on the side. It’s an unusual request and the cashier pauses for a moment. “Do we have cream?'” He asks the barista.
“No problems, we can do that.” The barista nods in reply.
It’s a small cafe and most of the customers are regulars. I know them by their voices and their shoes. I know them by the time they arrive and at their appearance I calculate how much time I have left before I need to leave for school. In this small community of the morning we gather, delighting in being known and sharing our private lives alongside one another in this hole in the wall.
There’s the woman with her crocheted blanket stretched across her knees, and the young man who writes in his a4 book. There’s an older man with his newspaper completing his crossword. There’s a young girl in a mini skirt and heels who flirts with the barista as she waits for her takeaway. There’s the woman who meets her son and a largish man who likes the spot in the corner. So do I. We secretly know this about each other and try to schedule our arriving to nab that spot first, we exchange a nod, settling for a smaller table by the entry when we arrive late. Occasionally he stands up as I arrive, “I’m leaving, it’s all yours,” he smiles like he’s discovered my longing for the space under the light.
At 5am in the morning, while the suburb sleeps, this place is a fort. A watering hole. A cosy space. Here you can read the paper, you can write your assignment for uni, you can use the wifi for free. You can sit outside as the day lights up and chat with the passers by.
I love watching people come to the cafe for the first time. There is a culture in this community and the rules are discovered as you enter the game. Anyone can play but it isn’t clear at first quite how. It’s hard to know which end of the small bar you place your order. People don’t quite know where to stand. They wear their insecurities as they balance their weight foot to foot.
One day as I was writing I heard a woman in R.M Williams order her coffee. “What do I do now?” She asked. “I feel like you want to get rid of me!” I looked up from my journal. I loved her instantly. She verbalised what everyone feels the first time.
‘No, not yet.’ The barista replied.
“Not yet!” She laughed out loud.
But the barista didn’t reply this time. He was greeting Nigel and it was 7:40am. Time for me to leave.
I closed my journal and said my goodbyes, wondering if I’d ever see those boots again. As I made my way to the car I thought about what it means to live in the present. I’ve been working on this for years now, this concept of living completely in the moment. It’s okay to feel hollow and empty. It’s okay if you don’t know the rules. The key perhaps is being completely conscious of the moment while attempting to lose all consciousness of self. It is self-consciousness, Dillard writes that “hinders the experience of the present” I try to challenge myself to live beyond all my own insecurities as I find myself constantly out of my depth. I remind myself that it’s only when we have no idea at all, that grace truly fills our cup and so I step forward bravely into another year of learning.
Dillard, A. (1974). Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper Perennial.