I arrived at Barnes & Noble hungry. After leisurely browsing the aisles for a time, I made my way towards the Starbuck's counter at the west end of the bookstore, ordered a tall cup of English Breakfast tea and a slice of their Mediterranean quiche. I now sit alone at my table, soaking in the moment, being with my own thoughts while observing the world around me, something I don't allow myself to do that often.
As the spinach and artichokes delight my palate, I watch the people walking about in the parking lot. I find myself reflecting on the fact that the scene I'm witnessing would happen whether I was here or not. The overweight mom carrying her child on her hip would still tug on the leash of her pudgy pug as they make their way to the pet store next door. The too skinny Evergreen mom would be fastening her kids into her SUV.
I pause to think about all the other lives that are happening right now, out there, outside this parking lot or this store. We are like musicians on a stage, each playing our parts in the symphony of life. As I entertain that thought, I am drawn by a conversation between the two women sitting behind me.
The first woman tells her older friend about the difficulties she's having with her children. They are having a hard time accepting her separation from their father. How could I stay, she tells her friend, he was cheating on me. I wish he had hit me, she continues. Cheating doesn't seem to be a good enough reason for my leaving, she says in a sad tone.
At the table in front of me, two other women sit across from each other. The first one has piercing blue eyes. Her fiery-red hair brings out the blue of her eyes like I've rarely seen before. She sits leaning on her forearms and listens to her interlocutor with unwavering attention. I can't hear what they're saying. They whisper to each other, their faces close to one another.
To my right, two old men walk in from the side door. Both wear sandals with socks. Their long gray hair and unshaven beard fit the tattered t-shirts and lose fit jeans they wear. Two old geezers coming for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Nice! They're talking about somebody. One talks to the other. The other nods in agreement.
I sit, alone, in my own company. I am grateful to be here foregoing the need to tell my story to someone else. In my aloneness, I find freedom to be who I am, with simple needs, reveling in the space I share with these people. If I had been here with someone else I wouldn't have noticed them or paid attention to their presence the same way. I would have been busy talking, conversing with my companion.
Being here makes me happy. I feel part of something. I'm not here to make anyone feel better. What matters most is that I'm here amongst them. I feel connected. Connected to the suffering of the woman, the intensity of friendship, and the recounting of old tales from a long life lived and shared. Because of these strangers, today I feel more alive. They have welcomed me into their midst without knowing it.
How often do we give ourselves the gift of connection while sitting alone in a public place?