It's been almost two years now, and I still miss my coffee-shop companion.
I get that Starbucks is pretty expensive coffee, so after a summer of almost daily visits, I’d been trying to only treat myself occasionally. I set the alarm to go off a few minutes early that rainy November morning so I could snag a quick caramel macchiato before school. Stacey greets me and rings up my order before I even tell her what I want. As I wonder if maybe I’m still coming here too much, the barista asks me if I knew L.D. It might have been my puzzled expression that prompted her to add, “He’s the man who always sat over at that window table.”
As she pointed in that direction, I could see him sitting there as clearly as I had every time I’d gone to Starbucks these past two years. After a few months of simply noticing him, I started smiling and saying, “hello.” Then I decided to introduce myself. What could it hurt? I wondered; he seemed like a nice guy. Sure enough, he was, and he appreciated that I’d want to get to know him. So while my candy bar-in-a-cup was being crafted, my friendship with the Stranger at Starbucks was also brewing.
He loved to visit. He talked about his garden and his granddaughter, about squash and soccer, about fences and family, about a new grandbaby on the way and a new way to grow okra. Much like a small bean transforms into a delicious cup of coffee, this Stranger was quickly, over time, becoming my friend.
It wasn’t that weird when he wasn’t at his table on that December day because he wasn’t due back from his family’s ranch until Friday. She said that no, he had passed away on Sunday night. She’d gone to the visitation the night before and the funeral, she added, would be today at 11:00.
Time kind of stopped. I still can’t make much sense out of that morning. I remember my brain racing and my eyes stinging as I sat down to wait for what seemed like forever for them to make my specialty drink. My tears confused the heck out of me. He was, after all, the Stranger at the Starbucks. No one would understand my shock and grief if I couldn’t. I didn’t even really know his name.
So, in my sadness, I wrote his family a note and attended the service to say goodbye one last time to the Stranger at Starbucks. Rows and rows of people had come to pay their respects to my friend. There were at least seven of us that he knew only from Starbucks. How many other lives had he touched just by being the guy at that premium window seat?
I learned a lot about L.D. at his Celebration of Life service. He was only a month older than my dad and he shared the same last name as my father-in-law. There was no way I could have known that, but there was always that mysterious connection I felt. I could tell that L.D. had lived a good life. He was blessed and he, in turn, blessed others. Just by being.As I struggled with my uncomfortable feelings, my friend Lee asked if I would have done anything differently had I known that L.D. wouldn’t be back at Starbucks that morning, or not on Friday, or not ever? And how many times do I think I made L.D. smile? I don’t know about the latter, but I do know that the answer to the former is “absolutely not!” I am better because I introduced myself to the Stranger at Starbucks. On the mornings that I got to visit with L.D., I left with more than just a jolt of java. I wouldn’t trade that for all of the coffee beans in the world. Is the caramel macchiato pricey? You bet. But when it results in a priceless relationship, it’s clearly worth every cent!