I currently sit in a coffee shop as I write this so far aimless article. First, I must admit that this little essay is only a form of procrastination from a larger work that has probably grown too large, and I must rest from it if it is ever to become smaller again. Whether I ever manage to finish it, I doubt, but the endeavor is a noble one, so I will continue trying. However, I cannot decide if writing my book is the reason I have come to the coffee shop, or if coming to the coffee shop is the reason for which I write my book. Do I come to a coffee shop so I can write better, or do I write so I can sit in a coffee shop better?
There is something about a coffee shop that encourages reading and writing. As I read this essay, I unfortunately cannot vouch that it makes either better. As I look around, I realize it encourages socializing as well. Truly, a good coffee shop must create the atmosphere of communication. A light mix of uncontroversial music plays in the background from bands mostly unknown to me, denying silence the opportunity to be awkward. A couch sits empty in the corner, as for some unexplained phenomenon every customer (there are many) prefers the hard, wooden seats. Discomfort forces someone either to move or to distract himself thoroughly with some other pursuit. Reading, writing, and conversation distract quite well. Interestingly, orange and white tiles checker the floor, and I am determined to find out why before the end of this essay.
Naturally, various conversations fill the café area. Beside me, for example, a group of three students feigns studying for a certification test while they secretly mingle and enjoy one another’s company. The test is an excuse at best for the gathering. Outside the dull notes, which brought them together, they realize they are together, and that livens the spirit in a way that academic notes inevitably fail to do—at least in my humble opinion. I do not deny the importance of studying, but I do deny that it is what is most important, and most people understand that inherently. They demonstrate it by doing a poor job with group studying. Yet a poor job of studying together can easily be better than a fantastic job of studying alone.
There is also something about reading and writing that encourages sitting in a coffee shop. Strangely, coffee shops are also magnificent venues for being alone, which is how reading and writing are often done. Several odd people came out to this tiny bistro filled with people precisely to avoid people. They sit and read quietly by themselves with their soothing caffeine laden buckets close at hand; they enjoy the company of others without having to deal with the company of others. Admittedly, I fall into this latter category, though I try to remain friendly to external contact. In fact, I realize I desire it. I suppose the beauty of it is that I can control with whom (and for how long) that contact occurs. I can always ask what someone is studying or writing to commence conversation. Reversely, if ever I desire to break conversation, I have the very practical reason that I am writing. I can even selflessly observe that they are writing, and in my mercy, allow them to return their labor. On the other hand, disturbing some of the others from their quiet, peaceful studies could imbue the wrath of the coffee god himself, who lives within all coffee shop patrons, even if his inner fury withholds itself for the politest of social reasons.
As I analyze the reasons for my presence, this idea of being around people to be comfortably alone continues to interest me. It is truly a brilliant compromise. Both satisfactions of being alone and being social are accomplished at once. In other words, there are just enough distractions to allow one to focus on his own pursuits and just enough solitude that one can actually feel comfortable around the numerous other people. Of course, caffeine is necessary to resist the desire to nap, arguably one of the few individualistic habits denied to coffee shop goers by social circumstance, just short of undressing and taking a shower in the bathroom.
Coffee shops affirm for me another of the paradoxes of mankind: that we are social individuals, specifically, social individuals who enjoy caffeine. Most believe life is empty without relationships (or coffee), yet we enter and exit life alone (and without coffee). Everyone is defined partially in light of relationships, whether as a father, a daughter, a wife, or a loner. Though an important part of a person’s definition, it remains only a part. Additionally, a person is what he makes himself; and if he lives, he becomes something, whether he takes action upon his existence or not. Man requires both relationships and individualism: to work with others, but to be himself apart from the group, that is, if he is to live a healthy life. This is also the nature of healthy political structure—that with all men bound together, each man can create his own path best he can. Perhaps politicians should look to coffee shops when determining their politics. Many people find their meaning in their relationships, in their family, in their friends. Others find it in themselves, in their wealth, in their fame, in their virtue. However, I find most people eventually have their fill of other people, and most people thankfully have their fill of themselves. The ultimate satisfaction of man must have some inclusion of both, and I realize in myself that a relationship with God satisfies just that. He is there at both birth and death. He understands every facet of our being beyond any other and understands our uniqueness beyond even ourselves. It is through the Christian relationship that the Christian finds himself. I guess the philosopher seeks to find the perfect balance of the collective and the individual, whereas the Christian has found the two mysteriously bound in one. The social scientist has yet to decide whether man is inherently a social animal or a free spirit. The Christian inherently sees he is both.
And therein is the purpose of the orange and white checkered floor. It is an odd question to decide whether the orange or the white is the true foundation of the floor, with the remaining color tossed evenly upon the original as an afterthought. An entirely white floor would prove lackluster, and an entirely orange floor unnatural and distracting. The floor’s foundation was designed to be at once orange and white. Social and individual. It only achieves its intended design when viewed as necessarily in unison. And that design was determined by the designer, not the floor.