The Perfect Cup

14 Jan

Perfectly-dimly-warmly lit room. Warm & cozy, not too hot. Coffee aromas, milk steaming & screaming. A wooden chair & a circular table waiting just for you. Few people can resist this scene. And there’s a reason for that. There is nothing quite like watching a rainy afternoon melt into a grey then black night from the insides of a coffee shop. A good book accompanied by a cup of coffee is never bad for the soul.

Often, my soul requires just that.


I said before that few people can resist the allure of the coffee shop. This is true and for good reason. However, there are also few people who can experience a coffee shop purely and completely. This may sound snobby. It may sound flat wrong. It’s ok, I understand how you feel because I was there once too. Try reading that 3rd sentence again. Your gut reaction to my bold statement is important. Read on and see what I mean.

Fact: Dan in Real Life is my favorite movie. I find that it narrates my life better than most anything. In the final scene of the film, we join Dan and his three daughters in pursuit of Dan’s-brother’s-ex-turned-Dan’s-new-love-interest at the end of a long, emotional weekend with an eclectic, yet close-knit family. We have come to know Dan as a heady, misunderstood character, but in this final sequence we ignore his past mistakes as we cheer him on to choose his heart over his head. He eventually meets up with Marie at a nearby bowling alley only to be discovered by his family kissing her mere hours after she broke up with his brother.


Many of Dan’s fears and misgivings are necessarily tested in the final scene. He rediscovers his heart and the importance of listening to it. The last bit of the film is a voiceover by Dan himself. We see his car drive over a bridge and into the city to find Marie. We hear his voice reading his first column as a syndicated writer. The topic: plans. Dan and his daughters walk on the rainy sidewalk in front of some glass windows. Dan’s voice continues, saying how we all hope our children make safe, smart decisions and how our plans rarely work out the way we hope. Dan stops in front of the glass window and Marie, who is treadmilling, looks on with a huge, helpless smile as she slows her stride. Dan’s final lines read: So instead of asking our young people “What are you plans? What do you plan to do with your life?” maybe we should tell them this: Plan to be surprised. And the movie ends.

. . . Coffee Shop. . . Dan in Real Life. . . Plans. . .

Let’s connect some dots. I work at this homegrown coffee shop that just exudes homeyness. It is so hard to explain, but it is so real when you feel it. Listen to sound of the name of this place as you read it: Greyhouse. So smooth. Often customers walk in and order a drink in Starbucks language. I lovingly remind them that we are Greyhouse, not Starbucks.  We serve regulars and larges, not talls and ventes. Innocent mistakes. These mix-ups are completely acceptable, even cute at times. They fit well within the atmosphere of grace we try to promote. We think learning is good. However, there is another sort of thing that doesn’t fit so well. Maybe you know what I am talking about, but let me give you a few examples. Things like: hovering right next to the counter like a thirsty hawk when we tell you there is a 15 min wait, taking a crepe without so much as asking if it belongs to you or Bridget or Jimmy, asking why I put your drink in a to-go cup when you asked for it that way but in your mind wanted it otherwise, and the classic “I come here every day, why can’t you do x,y, or z for me?”

Common denominator: Expectations. Every person wants the perfect cup of coffee. Dan’s perfect cup would be obedient daughters and a successful writing career. But what if life actually happened according to our expectations? What if I handed you the perfect cup of coffee every morning? It wouldn’t be so perfect after a while, would it? Sometimes we act like every want and need and expectation of ours has the right to dictate reality. Like, we should get whatever we want and people should recognize this as law. As if our expectations could create a better reality. How wrong is that? How narrow-minded does that sound? It is a refreshing sight to see someone’s perspective broaden. To realize just how small and insignificant expectations are. How limiting they are. How dangerous they can be.

So, I am going to New Zealand for 6 months at the end of January. Do I have expectations? Sure. I expect my plane to stay in the air. I expect that my professors will teach me something about philosophy. I expect people I meet to speak basic English. Maybe this is a better question: Am I forming an ideal New Zealand in my mind? This one is a bit harder. Truth: I am trying very,very,very,very hard to be aware of my expectations. I am trying to limit it to the basics. I am no longer looking for the perfect cup of coffee in New Zealand. You could say I am learning how to live in reality. And I know I am going to mess up. But, I hope I am open to learn. Or at least learning how to learn. And that’s where I’m at.


If I want a certain planned-out type of experience, then going to New Zealand is the last place to fulfill that want. Staying at home on my couch is a much easier place to control my reality. Someone at this point wants to ask, “So you are telling me that you can ignore all the information, all the advice, all the stories you have heard and just form basic expectations?” My answer is “No. Ignore is the wrong word. Also, read the last paragraph. I am still learning.”

I know that I have a limited amount of time in NZ so advice and stories are important informers. But not important enough to dictate my reality. I am choosing to “plan to be surprised.” That’s why I am writing this. This is my commitment: To be wise enough to use my expectations and plans to an appropriate extent. And then drop them like a bad habit.

Hey, the end is near. Read on. It gets better from here.

We can help ourselves. And we can help each other. We don’t have to be ruled by expectations. Nor do we have to be rid of them completely.


Go. Do stuff. With people you love.

Listen to people. Be patient with them. Learn from them. Smile at them.

Use your expectations wisely and sparingly. Also, take Dan’s advice: Plan to be surprised.

When you’re wrong, admit it.  Ask for forgiveness. This is hard, I know. But remember, love is greater than fear.

Drink coffee, but don’t expect it to be perfect. Because it won’t be. And that’s ok.


P.S.  This was a long post, I know. None of my future writings will be this long, I promise. Also, it is up to you to remind me of my own advice when I am in New Zealand buried underneath my plans and unmet expectations. This will be important. I am counting on you.


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