I hate coffee. Not in the sense of, “I don’t prefer it, and I’ll only drink it if there isn’t any other caffeine available. No, I hate coffee—the taste, smell, and existence on this planet of the whole bean thing. That one thing, you must remember.
You know those selfies people take where they they’re standing with their heels having over the edge of a cliff? That’s how I’ve felt for a while, only the cliff is burnout, and I don’t really want a photo of the experience. I’ve always thought those people were fools, and yet, here I am, waving at the camera.Tweet
Add to that loneliness more overwhelming than it’s been since I was a young bride in a strange town and a body that seems to be deconstructing faster than I can find doctors to cobble it back together, and you’ve got my general state of mind lately.
And so, in the midst of this, I asked God to work. I asked God to help me halt the prevailing winds of scarcity mindset that have plagued me since—since I took my first step one day and thought, there is so much out there I will never get to explore. I asked God, maybe begged God, to teach me, this late in life, how to breach the gates of fear that have kept in far more than they’ve protected against.
Which is how I found myself saying “yes” to the shy word “cafe?” asked by the woman getting out of my car.
I’d driven Faizah (name changed) and her daughter to the doctor twice in two weeks. Considering our first visit ended up with me being pushed around in a wheelchair to her child’s appointment, I was surprised she asked for me again.
I’m used to silent car rides when I shepherd refugees around the city. With the Congolese I can get through a few sentences together in a smattering of French. With the South and Central Americans, my Spanish is sufficient to both communicate basics and embarrass myself. But with most, including Faizah, their language skills far exceed mine. She knows only a few English words. I know zero Arabic ones.
I knew, though, she was inviting me into her home, and I had a choice in that driveway to choose the automatic scarcity “no” or the expansive “yes.” Surprising myself, I chose yes. And prayed I wouldn’t vomit coffee on her living room carpet.
She offered me a choice—American instant coffee or something in a quart ball jar. I guessed the latter was coffee from her home country, which I knew would be strong stuff, but I figured, in for a penny, right? A few minutes later, she brought out two tiny cups and saucers, along with two plates filled with two slices of cake. Each. A concentrated caffeine shot and a sugar rush. My stomach would pay dearly for the next half hour.
I smiled, sipped, sat upright on her couch, because slouching back into the soft cushions is strictly for people you’ve allowed into the intimacy of your life. She did the same. I knew I had to break the awkward quiet, something this introvert never does.
I grabbed my phone. Typed into iTranslate, “Where are you from?” A sure first question. What I hoped was correct Arabic appeared.
“Syria.” I nodded. Most Middle Eastern refugees I’ve met have been Syrian, sometimes Iraqi.
“We live in Turkey, nine years. Turkey, not good.” She shook her head and faltered for words, for more reasons than the language gap.
I understood. Most refugees I’ve talked to don’t say much about their experiences in resettlement camps. I suppose it’s a lot like my dad never once speaking a word about his time on the USS Iowa in the South Pacific. There are things we hide even from ourselves when we can’t process their reality.
“Here, eight months. Here, good.”
I knew from the sign on the specialty clinic door I was taking her daughter to that here, now, was not all good. Still, in her eyes, it was immeasurably better.
While drinking that coffee and fervently praying I wouldn’t be offered a second, we managed a technology-assisted conversation. I learned she, like me, had three children. She learned I was, bewilderingly, fine that none of my three had managed to be sons. We shared pictures on our phones.
She told me she wanted to learn to drive. She had no friends in the neighborhood, no car, and no means of socializing beyond her walls. But if she could drive? “Markets, parks, Walmart!” Her face sparkled with anticipatory joy.
I avoid Walmart at all costs for the same reason Faizah desperately wanted to go—the massive amounts of humanity present in a small-ish space. I thanked her, said goodbye, left to visit one of my not-sons, and considered the perspective.
It was a week where I felt especially sad for myself. Mind you, I still do. Grief isn’t a sport where we’re awarded more points the more “justified” our tears. The horrors of her past and the loneliness of her present don’t detract from whatever my pain might be. To opt for the common Christian camouflage of, “I could have it so much worse” insults not only my pain but hers, too. “Praise God for giving me a poor refugee to make me feel better about my life!” isn’t the direction I want to go in honoring either of us. To leave with that moral of the story strips Faizah of her agency and me of my honesty.
When I asked God to help me—to help me be more generous with my time, my heart, my fears—I hadn’t anticipated it in the form of a Syrian refugee woman who wanted a coffee buddy. She probably didn’t expect an answer to her prayers to look like a white woman with a knee brace and questionable skills navigating hospital corridors. I don’t know yet how this budding iPhone-aided friendship with turn out.
I don’t know yet what I’m learning, except, perhaps, the power of the expansive “yes.”Tweet
Also, that strong coffee will, indeed, make me sick all day, jazz me like a blues harmonica, and drop me like a flaming rocket by 8pm. All in a tiny china cup.