Coffee Shop Symphony

By

“If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway.” -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson

I wasn’t given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I’m enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies.

The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she’ll exercise after she’s done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a “wonderful” weekend trip to Nashville—We should do it again sometime.

I feel alive in these scenes.

Urban life has always compelled me. For a boy who lived in a trailer park in a small country town in southern Indiana for the first 13 years of his life, the first ventures to DC or NYC were mesmerizing even beyond the sights and sounds of the city. There was for me a symphony of stories, disparate notes of varied instruments coming together in a new and beautiful way.

Some people withdraw to grand canyons or scale snowy peaks. It is there, in those places, that their hearts are filled, their perspectives renewed for a journey back into the noise of the mainstream. But my circuit has always been flipped. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the beauty of the created order, but there’s a renewal that occurs while nestled between strangers. Hearing a story that’s not my own, that has absolutely nothing to do with me, that’s filled with the same tensions, hopes, fears, and joys, breathes fresh air into my life. My heart is filled, my perspective renewed.

The siren song of the city is bolstered by this idea that I’m in touch with the business, and busyness, of God. Sorrows are comforted. Joys are shared. Hopes are restored. Loneliness finds company. Even those who are alone here in this coffee shop are leaning into something, and the mystery of that excites me. Someone is finding the discipline to do what she loves for a few more minutes. Someone else wraps up the last few chapters of a story that’s somehow become his own. No matter the table, the good things of life are aglow all around me.

It’s nights like this that I remember that anything is possible, that our stories can move in any number of directions or not at all. I’m reminded that my own notes, while important and valuable, are only a small part of a grand orchestration. And even when my Sunday night seems like just another Sunday night without any great meaning or purpose or hope or reason, there’s much more going on than I can even begin to understand.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


13 Comments

  1. layla bb solms

    The Starbucks shops are in full swing of 1/2 price happy hour in our area. The deal is for any of 6 different frappuccinos. Yesterday I gave in to the siren song of syrupy sweet chilliness that is, honestly, not REALLY coffee.

    I noticed all types and ages of folks; super young, trendy, the experienced set (60 and up); I realized that most likely, none were regulars. They were sucked in by the promise of sugar-laden caffeinated icees, slushies, dare I call them milkshakes?

    No one was there for the “real thing” , but rather for a facsimile, a substitution of what many of us look for in a well pulled espresso or pour over brew; I couldn’t help but apply this scenario to my own life. How easy it is to seek out temporary happiness, something to fill me up, whether it be shopping, decorating, book hoarding (wait, that’s not really bad, right?), or just accumulating money, stuff, or power.
    — I’m just diving into the blog world; I;ve been reading rabbit room for around a year. Would you be willing to let me do a re-post or some sort of mention on my blog to connect to your post? I’m working out a lot of bugs on my blog & don’t have it looking to fabulous yet… but I’d be so grateful if we could do a link up or something ( I don’t even know what all this is called!)

  2. Kristen P.

    As someone who lives (more or less) the urban life, I too often find myself going to coffee shops for comfort. And I think you nailed it – it’s the comfort of knowing that I’m not alone; that something bigger than me is in play, even just in the lives of these beating hearts around me. A symphony indeed.

    I think our friend Clive would agree: “You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

  3. Tom Murphy

    Amen Matt! Coffee shops are no longer about the coffee for me anymore. And I have become quite the coffee snob over the years. I’ll take half decent coffee with excellent community any day. I wish more coffee shop owners would realize that. It seems like many indie coffee shops are trying to outdo one another with their product, when the real gold is the community of their patrons.

    It is kind of why I am so excited when AP and Pete start talking about brick and mortar coffee options.

    On another note, the killer of community is pride. There is an un-named coffee shop in town (you probably know which one) that probably has the finest coffee in the Greater Nashville area, but the hipster elitism run amuck makes their outstanding 100 rating from the city just kind of make me sigh.

  4. Chris Yokel

    Man, I can totally relate to this. I do love the solitude of nature, but I also love those days of exploring the energy of a city. There’s something magical in the bustle.

  5. whipple

    This is why airports are amazing. So many stories converging in a lovely sea of human noise, all of which is heard and understood by the Creator – I love it.

    Can’t help thinking, though: Matt Conner rejuvenates by eavesdropping.

    It’s a little late for trimming the verge. Eh, Sam?

  6. Oliver

    Wonderful writing and perspective Matt! I’m convinced that we are “audience” wherever we go. Only all too often we actually forget to be listeners because we are too occupied with thinking and struggle with the weight of our own world.
    However, I really like how you consider ourselves part of the orchestra as well! So we might be busy tuning our own instrument and struggle to find the right harmony, but forget that we are surrounded by inspiration and tunes that may carry our own or might be the tiny bit we are missing in order to achieve satisfaction.
    Thanks for this food for thought again Matt or better say the “double shot” of inspiration… 🙂

  7. Sarah

    I began studying in coffeeshops and diners when I was in high school. I appreciated the constant din in those days, however I think I’ve changed now to being more aware of the people. I still appreciate the certain level of hum that the orchestra, as you so well named them, of voices makes…but now I am more keen to notice the individuals and all the stories that are happening around me.

    Of course, that also might be why I am slightly less productive these days when I try to read at coffee shops!

  8. Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    It was really something to stop trying to write something and just start eavesdropping on everyone else for several minutes. You could easily pick up numerous conversations and so many of them were meaningful interactions. People were sharing fears, hopes or sorrows and they were being met by caring people across the table. It was pretty inspiring just to realize how much God was at work in the laughter or serious conversations all around. Plus, coffee.

  9. Kevin Ott

    Love this glimpse into that world. I so enjoy the sound of a coffee shop at full volume that I use a website that actually plays a long loop of a coffee shop so that your empty, quiet room wherever you’re writing becomes a bustling cafe. It propels my writing with great momentum on the days that feel like a grind.

  10. Kathleen Mahoney

    I personally love eavesdropping, and this was a wonderful post, thanks Matt!

  11. Chris Whitler

    I love scenes like this. This may sound weird but I find it really easy to fall asleep to the low rumble of a public place. Airports put me right out.

    I love to ponder God in His creation. To sit and listen to the surf or look at some mountains is a great place to do that. But, so is the city.

    There is just as much of the Creator’s glory in one molecule of a human being as there is in a mountain range. And our imagination can be as overwhelmingly vast as an ocean. The inside is bigger than the outside for sure.

    Good post!

  12. Carolina

    I love every aspect of this piece! Your description of this scene was perfect! You have put to words what I can only see in my head whenever I go to coffee shops. There is something so unique about going to places like coffee shops, airports, and cementaries(as morbid as that may sound), and I think you captured it to the closest degree.

    🙂

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