I love how certain instances can bring us back to a moment in time that perhaps our memories would otherwise forget to remember. This morning, I woke up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I arrived yesterday morning to pouring rain, walked about 5 miles in the city before tapping out with water-soaked jeans and a head of hair that looked like it had just gotten out of the shower, and ended the day with ramen. This morning, I awoke to a cloudy sky and a whoppin’ 45 degrees out. Coming from Seattle, I realized why I was quick to get out in the rain yesterday and walk around but even more quick to cozy up in my Airbnb and wait for the temperature to rise before venturing out today.
I saw a percolator and a french press in the kitchen when I stumbled my sleepy way in here. I instantly knew these were hosts I would be friends with in real life if I ever met them. They had coffee beans and a grinder next to them, the way any thoughtful coffee drinker would prefer it. These two hosts – they’re my kind of people. Having spent the weekend in South Dakota bouncing between dated coffee stands and hotel brews, I was ecstatic to see they stalked this kitchen with local beans and a variety of methods to brew them in small batches. Instead of having to choose between the beloved french press and a percolator (that I haven’t used in years) I decided to indulge my nostalgia and make both. Though an explanation is never necessary in regards to caffeine consumption, I’ll explain, for the sake of the story, why these brewing methods felt more like a sentimental decision for me today.
I love a good french press as much as any caffeine addict. I drink a full french press, and typically another after, every morning. I love it so much, in fact, I have two human bodies back to back drinking a french press tattooed on my leg to represent two things- our commonalities and our ability, as humans, to live connected while independent as we navigate relationships or decisions in general. I think it’s a healthy way to live; enjoying the finer things (like coffee) with one another while remaining back to back, not fixated on another, not fixated on only enjoying what we have in common, or on each other, but nurturing our individuality. I learned this concept, and began to appreciate this concept of independent similarities, by drinking from a percolator.
When I was 20 I traveled to Germany with one of my closest friends, Satya. I’ve written about Satya before – he’s kind, patient, thoughtful, and brilliant. He embodies the goodness any human would strive to attain. I attribute any shred of kindness I’ve learned to him. OK – gushing over. Back to the percolator.
One morning Satya woke me up at 5am. It was a cloudy morning in Munich, but he insisted I wake up to watch the sunrise with him. I pleaded there would be no sunrise if there was no sun – he begged to differ. “Shale, just wake up. I think the clouds will burn off, there will be a sunrise. I’ll make us coffee if you just get out of bed.” I quickly assembled myself and walked out into the kitchen. Satya was standing over the stove boiling water with two mugs set out with cream next to them. I shook my head and laughed, assuring him he would be wrong about the sunrise. There was a small percolator on the stove top, with coffee starting to spurt out. The lid was flapping open and closed, the water piping hot. We took our mugs out to the patio and listened as the birds chirped and the church bell rang and the world slept quietly at 5am.
I learned that morning (and many more to come) that early wake up calls accompanied by dear friends and strong coffee will never not be worth getting out of bed for. The moments when the world feels still, and you feel like you’re the only one lucky enough to be sitting in those quiet moments as you listen closely to the sound of rest. This morning, as I waited for the percolator to finish boiling, I thought about Satya and the countless 5am awakenings we built into our traveling routine. I felt nostalgic as I looked off the back porch and saw dark grey clouds rolling in. I found the video of Satya pouring the coffee into each of our mugs and laughing at the camera as he held his up with a loud ‘Cheers Shale! We’re drinking coffee in Germany! Who would have thought!’
Certainly not me, certainly not at 5am, I’ll tell you that much. No sunrise ever came, but I’m sure glad he woke me up. It was in that moment I realized Satya and I could have nothing more in common than similar mugs and a shared coffee taste in our mouths to see the same sunrise and witness the same majesty of earth waking up before our eyes. There was a shared understanding that, though our commonalities were few and far between, we could lock in on this one – a mutual appreciation for what we were hearing, what we were drinking, and who we were spending those sacred moments with. It was the 5am mornings that disassembled the walls and disarmed the dividers – they were the bridges that built commonalities, the spaces that invited conversation, and the catalyst for stimulated curiosity that would carry us through the days of traveling.
I’ve thought about that lesson over the years and incorporated it into my understanding of society and how we navigate relationships. I’ve thought about how little two people can have in common and yet find similarities in joys and sorrows or moments of clarity or moments of confusion. It’s shaped how I interact with those I sometimes chalk up to be ‘too different’ for me to find common ground with. Those moments determined how I would choose to move through new environments and enter into new spaces, relationally and geographically.
A couple years later I found myself in a similar boat with a girlfriend I met in Jackson, Wyoming. Her name was Lucy, and she was from New Zealand. I loved Lucy most for two reasons: 1. her accent and 2. her love for strong coffee. We met at a cafe called Picnic my second week in town. I had no friends at the time, so she quickly became my first when we began bonding over our shared reasoning for ending up in Jackson. We were both foreigners in unfamiliar territory, moving to this snowy little mountain town alone, in hopes of spending endless days putzin around in the Teton Mountains.
Lucy and I became roommates and didn’t let much time pass before we began enjoying our morning coffee together on the regular. We would get up around 7am, take our sleeping bags out to the porch, and watch as the streets got busier as the hour unfolded. Our routine entailed a chemex first (usually 7am-7:15) then the percolator second (7:15-7:30). We would consume at least 3 cups each within the half hour. On days we were struggling to fully wake up, we’d make more. We would talk with neighbors as they strolled out to their cars to go to work. We would talk about our dreams from the night before, plan out days on the trails, and exchange any noteworthy findings from the books we’d be reading at the time.
I remember one morning we were sharing our chemex and Lucy said, “You know, coffee really is inconvenient. It’s messy, and it takes a long time to prepare and brew it. Then there’s the clean up. I guess you have to really love coffee to drink it as often as we do. It’s a whole process.”
That word stuck with me – inconvenient. I thought about how the majority of my favorite relationships were built around coffee – the crafting of it, the drinking of it, and the adoration of it. I thought to myself, “If this is inconvenient, then maybe the lesson is good things are often masked as inconvenient. More simply, sometimes good things just are inconvenient. Getting out of bed early to watch the world get painted gold by the sunshine is inconvenient. Finding local and fair trade beans that are fresh and high quality is inconvenient. Grinding the beans and transferring them into the filter of choice is messy. A screaming kettle when the hot water is boiling is certainly anything but an enjoyable sound. Dumping the used grounds is a hassle, if not emptied clean the first go around. Early conversations can sometimes feel like a chore.
But what about this word stuck with me? Perhaps inconvenience, boiled down, is a cumulation of the things that take our time and could be avoided by doing the same tasks in a more simple way. They are not grab-and-go type ordeals. It’s not instant coffee or surface level friendships – though both of those options are most always readily available. Good coffee – quality coffee, like good people – quality conversations, are worth getting messy for. As I continue learning more about what it means to pursue a career in community management, I recognize the time it will take the build trust with clients and other community managers. I acknowledge that community, like coffee, is a whole heck of a process built one step after another, only after the previous step is complete. But, like any seasoned coffee drinker who’s tasted the luxury of fine coffee and watched the process bottom up, we are acutely aware that the process makes or breaks the product.
Both processes can look messy, they can feel messy, and they consume the hours of our day that aren’t retrievable. But these are the quality hours I will joyfully spend my days on. My community has been built on the messy grounds, and that’s where I intend to keep building it.
Both are worth getting out of bed for. They’re worth showing up for. Even if the sunrise never comes.