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coffee as life

The other morning, still a bit bleary-eyed, i walked over to the Common House for a cup of the coffee a neighbor had said on the listserv would be leftover from an event the previous night. I had a couple of sips and walked out to the deck, which overlooks a tiny expanse of forestry interrupted by a few houses and Shadowlake Road:

What i decided next requires a bit of background.

When i was born, my parents had both grown out of religious beliefs instilled by their households, and they answered my hard questions honestly, asserting only what they knew and being clear about what they didn’t. When people die, as i’ve never held delusions to the contrary, our processes terminate and our bodies decompose. What it will feel like, they couldn’t say; but that i wouldn’t be around to feel anything after the fact, they were clear. I love them immensely for this in particular; i’ve never had to experience the sinking realization that, i speculate, many lifelong religious believers suffering as they deconvert.

This occurred in tandem with an absurd expression of independence on my part, which i can’t confidently attribute to any particular aspect of my upbringing. Up until undergrad i resisted letting on in conversation that unfamiliar terms and concepts were unfamiliar. “Yeah, i know.” This is, for decades, how i treated the prospect of death: I know how it works, and i don’t need to investigate further.

At irregular but reliable intervals for these decades i would spend several days or weeks crying myself to sleep. This i would do often if death came to mind at night, and i tend to fixate on topics for weeks if i can’t resolve them. I accrued denial each day, in the guises of refreshed enthusiasm and optimism and resolve after good nights’ sleeps, resulting in recurring episodes of gut-wrenching resignation each night. I had chats with many acquaintances who have histories and experience with depression; i was not experiencing chronic depression. This was a failure to cope seriously.

Some time ago i was cuddling with a close friend and had a couple of pillow talks about death, my first shared thoughts about death while in bed. Her notions about death are far too unlike mine to provide any consolation, but the conversation got me mulling seriously, perhaps subconsciously.

Back on the deck, i decided to treat my cup of coffee as an allegory for my life: The remaining coffee in my mug was the remaining life i had to live.

I had about two thirds of my mug left. Of course. I’d better enjoy it, though, before it goes lukewarm. I had a sip and let it soak. I mulled over the activities i’d done and wanted still to do;the projects i wanted to spend years pursuing, investigating, refining; the nudges i wanted to contribute to the great advocacy movements of our and our progeny’s times. Time to get serious with my scheduling; time to start thoughtfully allocating my time and saving the spare for those moments when spontaneity would matter. Time to organize.

I had about half my mug left. (That went by fast.) I reminded myself of how important it is to remember, to appreciate the people in my life who have helped me improve myself and who reflect my influence as well. Local interactions. I thought through them: How, through the extraordinary friends i’d managed to surround myself with, i’d come to live a life more in keeping with the core values that define humanity than any i might have expected in not-so-distant environs or under not-so-different circumstances, and how i’d become an important component myself to people who inspire me, in a rare realization of an upward spiral in social interactions. I’ve trained in bike mechanics, community living, social justice, environmentalism, and more generically self-discipline, sex, and communication; and with people i couldn’t bring myself to trade for acquaintances from any hypothetical alternate life, convinced though i might be that they would have been somehow better. How beautiful that we can grow so to love our serendipitous fellows!

I had a few more sips left. How i would miss these people if only i could; how fortunate, ironically, that i won’t have to miss them forever. How i might miss the foliage, the animal noises, the well-maintained neighborhood, the quirky town, if only i were somewhere cognizant of my absence from it. I teased up a surge of emotion to complement this perspective. (How strange that these surges feel so contrived but that we almost involuntarily summon them up to accompany the proper thoughts. This warrants further investigation. . . .) Conscious sensations of being alive flooded and nearly overcame me.

I had a couple of sips left. With my next sip, though, on a whim i let myself take in all the rest. As i sloshed the warm but cooling beverage once, the surge settled into a submersion: I needn’t contain everything i’ve felt; i needn’t preserve it, any more than the world need preserve me to proceed along its tour. It’s not exactly selfish of me to wish to keep on, but it might be of me to keep it all to myself. I can let the rest of the world shine for a while. They might not do as well as i’d like, but they’ll do, and it’s their world, too.

I like to think that i’ll be able to call upon this attitude when i’m closer to my own end; this was a bit closer than i’d ever been to ready.

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  1. Jessie g
    October 14, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Cory, I love the coffee analogy. These first deliciously hot sips are quite wonderful, aren’t they? When I read this, what resonated with me in the context of my own fears is the fragile nature of the cup itself and our inability (or maybe lack of foresight?) to prevent ourselves from tripping, breaking the cup, and losing all of the coffee at once. I suppose that in that sense, I could never be “ready” – which is why I so value those times when, like you, I am acutely aware of my surroundings and am overwhelmed by the “conscious sensation of being alive”.
    i realize this is an old post – just discovered the existence of your blog tonight and was flipping through (that term doesn’t really work when the medium is electronic, does it? “skimming” wouldn’t do justice to the few I did read in depth). interesting stuff!

    • October 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm

      Jessie, i was also amused at the time at some of the ways the analogy might be stretched, but i didn’t think at all about accidentally spilling the whole mug! Sure, we can’t just expect ourselves to end in the midst of one of these moments . . . but i have noticed that, after a couple of years of practicing on-the-spot calming down, once or twice i’ve caught myself reflexively relaxing even before the thing i’ve spilled hits the floor. (Yep, the spilling happens frequently.)

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