Stafford: Coffee shops provide window on community engagement

Bill Lackey/Staff
Bill Lackey/Staff

So, how gray was the sky?

Like somebody had sprayed it with either attic insulation or the wet cardboard used to make drink carriers for fast food restaurants.

Then again, it could have been one of moods.

So, with a dull mind and a fresh deadline for what would my 2,000th something column, I fell back on habit.

Exchanging $2 for a medium cup of chemical inspiration, I added two yellow packs of sweetener, half a shot glass of half-and-half and took a sip.

I then popped open my laptop and looked around like a bleary-eyed meerkat.

Coffee shops differ, of course.

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One I visit regularly in Yellow Springs reminds me of adult study hall. There, people work on advanced degrees, explore deeper aspects of Buddhism and do the New York Times crossword puzzle daily. And I like them.

I like the one I was in in Springfield, too. But it’s different.

Drawings of caffeine and chocolate molecules hang in the all-gender bathroom.

And just as somebody in a long ago coffee shop figured out the chemical compositions of those molecules, a little eavesdropping told me the people around me were figuring out stuff, too.

To my left was a woman who, once having had connections in Dayton and Columbus, has resettled here. She is trying to get to know us all and figure out what she can do to contribute.

To that end, she talked with a young man about the lay of the land. Her questions of clear and purposeful, her mind working like a surveyor’s transom.

I do not know the young man, but he clearly is a thoughtful person. And when he gave minutes later by a former newsroom colleague of mine, I knew the young woman has a journalist’s sense for finding good sources.

But this wasn’t the best thing.

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There’s only one place that comes to mind where I’ve seen her level of energy and optimism: in Pixar movies.

So, how animated is she?

That animated.

Behind me, another young woman and young man were brainstorming about something: A one off event with enough fun to draw in enough young people to raise a meaningful amount of money to address a key problem in the homeland: food insecurity.

Their expressions and the angles of their heads changed as their minds found new angles of thought. They were engaged — not in the romantic sense, but with the kind of engagement that connects us with the world and the people around us. The kind of engagement that leads us to purpose. The kind of engagement that sustains us and that we hope is around until death do us part.

By this point, caffeine molecules and the people around me had me out of my seat checking out the two six-top tables not yet visited by peeping Tom.

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Both were hosting committee meetings.

The one closer to me had three familiar faces, two of whom I exchanged hellos with as they passed by me coming in.

Those two and one more person I recognized can no longer be described as young or the “new blood” a community needs. They look too much like me.

Nor were they up to anything particularly new.

They were instead doing the work needed for our community to keep the faith and continue to perform one of its fundamental duties: helping children to learn.

Although no longer hot and spicy, the people around the table could be called well-seasoned - veteran contributors those of the younger people I’d listened in on can aspire to be. They’ve long been engaged.

That left one table at the back of the shop - and my last hope that there might be some group in the shop that was just socializing.

As soon as I saw the papers in front of them, I lost all hope of that.

They were figuring out what a foundation they’re involved in should be doing with its funds. Figuring what to pay for in the present; what to plan for in the future; how the institution they’re invested in can thrive and help the community do the same.

The place was filled with these people.

The kind of people who wake me up.

Who remind me to stay engaged.

And who, on my gray days, are better for me than coffee.

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