I am sitting in a large, sunny coffee shop in Kansas City, Mo., on a Friday morning. I’m waiting for my mom, who is across the street getting a haircut, which she’d scheduled before I’d planned this weekend visit home. We are going to spend the day together, and I’m looking forward to some of my favorite Kansas City outings — a walk around Loose Park, a visit to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, lunch at one of my old haunts. But first, I’ll kill an hour here.
Coffee Girl’s, the café where I’m biding my time, is familiar to me, though when I lived in Kansas City it was in a different location, near downtown. I’d stop in for a juice sometimes on my way back to the office after a noon vinyasa class. It’s now in Waldo, a historic neighborhood not far from where I grew up, with tree-lined residential streets and lots of restaurants and shops. The new space is open and loft-like despite being at street level: high ceilings, wall-size windows, concrete floors.
I’m in a contemplative mood as I sit with my jasmine tea, watching people come and go. It’s strange to hang out in a neighborhood I’ve known my whole life, in a transplanted coffee shop I’ve visited a dozen times, in a town where I haven’t lived in five years. I keep my eyes open for people I recognize, but as well-known to me as this scene is, everyone around me here is a stranger.
The manager is friendly. We chat a bit about the ideal water temperature for brewing green tea (180 degrees F), and he gets me a fresh cup when I accidentally let my second pour steep too long. I’d like to tell him how I used to live here, how five years is the longest I’ve ever not lived here, and how weird it feels to be home and yet feel so disconnected from everyone. I’m inclined to ask some of the other customers where they work or where they went to high school so I can discover who we know in common and marvel at how few degrees of separation we all are from one another.
I doubt I’m the only person in the room who has ever had this disconnected, separate feeling. And I know it’s not only in this familiar-yet-unfamiliar setting that I feel a bit out of step with the people around me. I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. I could blame this sensation on our turbulent times — so much division and anger in the news these days — or on the specifics of my busy life and not dedicating enough energy to nurturing relationships. But feeling separate, at least sometimes, is really a timeless experience, isn’t it?
I think of a meditation practice I learned many years ago. It’s called lovingkindness meditation, and it’s always been remarkable to me how it can shift my perspective, especially when I’m feeling at odds with someone — or on days like today when I’m feeling lost in a crowd. I decide to try it.
Slowly, I look around at all of the people in the room. The coffee shop manager, in constant motion as he buses tables, chats with customers, assists his staff. The girl behind the counter with her artsy, cat-eye glasses and long black hair tied back in pigtails. The man at the table in front of me, hunched over his laptop. The young mom with her squirmy toddlers. The older couple joking with the barista. The bearded guy in khakis who from a distance reminds me of a long-lost friend, but who is not.
As I look at each person, I think: “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful and safe.” One by one I let my attention and intention rest on all these people I do not know. There are at least a couple dozen people here and it takes a few minutes to silently make my rounds. No one notices, but inevitably the shift comes. My mood lifts. I feel . . . better. Like I’m not only in this scene but am now part of it as well.
A few minutes later I glance out the window and see a familiar figure walking across the street. My friend Whitney, whom I’ve known since high school, is headed toward the coffee shop with her 12-year-old daughter, Ava. They’re holding hands, and as they approach the front door, Whitney draws Ava’s hand up for a quick kiss. Whitney isn’t expecting me of course, but she sees me right away and I soon find myself in an embrace. And I feel known. Another minute later my mother arrives as well. I make introductions. The coffee-shop manager smiles and tells my mom her haircut looks great.
Jill Metzler Patton is an Experience Life senior editor. For more from Jill, read “Beyond the Harvest.”