The Lopez Corner: Sunday, The Coffeeshop

‘Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.’ ~ Barry Lopez

I put stories up on the blog periodically, mainly vignettes of my kids. But glimpses of how beautiful the world can be are everywhere.

And it’s a hard time for teachers. Things feel cold. Working against the zeitgeist is worth a small step towards intentionally cataloging the moments that make up the bottom line for me.

Last Sunday I was in a local coffee shop, burrowing through some grading. It was pretty quiet– just the dark, solidly-built college kid with an earring running the shop, and one or two other people. Until Sam came in.

Sam was very upset that he had missed the bus. I didn’t find that out until later, though, from the college kid. To me and the other customers. who rapidly packed up and disappeared, Sam looked much scarier than that. At over six feet tall and several hundred pounds, he paced the shop, having an animated and unpleasant conversation with someone in his head, occasionally clapping loudly, yelling, then his voice dropping into an agonized whispered scream.

Then the college kid said firmly, calling him by name: “You want some coffee, Sam?”

And in between the ranting sentences, Sam looked at the college kid with complete clarity and said, “Yeah.”

Sam sat in a chair and finished his coffee, paced some more, screamed and clapped. I watched him from under my eyelashes. Was he drunk? No. High? No. He reminded me of some of the institutionalized adults I’d worked with in the past; but beyond that, clearly well kept and with some financial means, he was a mystery.

Sam stood up with purpose, gathered his things, still talking, and left calmly. The air vibrated. The college kid and I, now the only ones left in the shop, exchanged glances.

He said, “I’m sorry about that. Sam is schizophrenic.”

I felt several things at once. Sorrow that he felt he needed to apologize. Amazement at his comport, his respect. Wonder and worry at what Sam’s situation could possibly be. I asked, “Is he homeless?”

“No,” said the college kid, and proceeded to give me a detailed list of exactly who Sam was; where he worked; how he kept happy, independent and solvent. It was the kind of information you knew about someone only if you’d had extended, multiple conversations.

“He’s really smart.” he concluded,  “Fun to talk to.

A great guy.”

And we both looked out the window at the path Sam had left in the snow.

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