i was in a coffee shop today--the beloved java (not bluestem), sitting across the table from a friend, discussing life and politics and jesus. we were sharing a focaccia round with cholula sauce--oh don't get me started on the goodness of cholula sauce. the sun was slanted across our table, the delightful hum of general coffee shop activity glinted behind. you could here the keys tapping from laptops at the tables nearby. occasionally someone would laugh.

then, all of the sudden we here, "I HAVE BLEEDING SHIN SPLINTS." our conversation stops mid-sentence. the table next to us a woman is on her cell phone, "NO, I HAVE BLEEDING SHIN SPLINTS." and yes, i use all caps because i'm sure everyone in the whole shop could here her--and it's a fairly big place.

people are so funny. sometimes you notice because they're shouting. sometimes you just have to pay a little more attention.

i was at the grocery store today. i tried to go late last night, as i usually do, but i was very dissatisfied with the produce, and half the store was sectioned off for waxing the floors. i left in frustration. anyway, so i'm at the other dillons in manhattan today (in hopes they would have better produce--they did. and no, wal-mart is not an option). ok, so i'm standing in line after gathering all my items (a good amount--i stock up on my trips to the store, because i try to only go about once a month. i don't know why, and i invariably run out of the good things--like produce--but it just takes so much time!). yeah i'm really going to tell the story now.

standing in line, i noticed the woman in front of me. call me snoopy, but in a moment i had a glimpse of her life. she was quite older. grayish-white hair in tight curls held close to her head. solid glasses--the type that have probably been worn for 20 years. a large gray wool coat (it was 60 degrees this afternoon) that extended down below her hips. worn brown polyester pants quite faded. i didn't notice her shoes.

her groceries:
-2 cans of hormel spiced chili
-3 packages of fudge cookies
-1 potato (no bag)
-3 24 packs of milwaukee light beer (cans)
-8 healthy choice italian dinners (manacotti, ravioli, etc)
-1 carton of cigarettes

it's interesting how we can paint a picture of what we assume. for all i know she has many wonderful grandchildren that visit her all the time. or perhaps she has a husband of 40 years she shares all that beer with--i didn't happen to look for a wedding ring. but that one potato. one potato. and her eyes.

i'm not sure, but i think when you have lived that much life you will be off the fence in some ways. i feel like you will either feel like you have figured out something about life and why it's worth living, or you won't have and are either in despair that you have not, or more likely you have created some way to ignore or dilute the lack of satisfaction with life. now, that might be completely off since i'm only 24--but i think to some extent that has to be true. as in a lot of ways its true of anyone any age, it's just perhaps easier to ignore the younger you are. perhaps.

still, the point of it all is that i look at strangers. hell, i look at a lot of people who aren't strangers and i want to ask them the question, "what are you living your life for?" have they thought about it? i mean really thought about it, and does the way they live reflect that? i have to ask myself that question. in some ways i feel like i should ask it every day. does being so intentional take the joy out of life as it is sometimes assumed? no, not at all. fun can be just as much a distraction to joy as somber dedication (though that's not what intentionality truly is). at this point i'm nearly plagiarizing:

"One of the roots of the desire for pleasure is the feeling of emptiness and the pain of boredom following from it. Emptiness is the lack of relatedness to things and persons and meanings; it is even the lack of being related to oneself. Therefore we try to escape from ourselves and the loneliness of ourselves, but we do not reach the others and their world in a genuine relation. And so we use them for a kind of pleasure which can be called "fun." But it is not the creative kind of fun often connected with play; it is, rather, a shallow, distracting, greedy way of "having fun." And it is not by chance that it is that type of fun which can easily be commercialized, for it is dependent on calculable reactions, without passion, without risk, without love. Of all the dangers that threaten our civilization, this is one of the most dangerous ones: the escape from one’s emptiness through a "fun" which makes joy impossible."

Tillich also says that faith is not as much about belief but about ultimate concern. what are you ultimately concerned with, at the deepest level and at the most basic sum of your actions, and that is what you have faith in. that goes with chesterton saying something to the effect of "the dividing line in life is not between christians and non-christians, but between those who think seriously about life and those who do not."

i am not trying at all to be a proponent of life taken so seriously that it has no joy. if you are worried about that, read the full chapter from tillich here. but truly, what good does it do to go through life without knowing why you are doing 90% of the the things you do? maybe it's wrong of me to assume strangers are living that way. maybe they are full of purpose. but then why don't i see it in their eyes? do they see it in mine?

what if i went up and asked one of them completely out of the blue, "what are you living your life for?"?


  1. 1. I call it Java too! (and it's still my favorite coffee shop of all time)
    2. Don't judge loud cell phone talkers. Some of us just can't help it...
    3. Produce=ridiculous right now! SO ANNOYING!
    4. Thanks for the tips... Am I violating a rule by posting a ridiculously long comment? You'll have to let me know.
    5. But seriously, I like what you had to say. Very poignant. (I'll be sure to bring it up in a discreet, round-about way sometime to seem extra-cool. haha)

  2. beautifully painted, though shattered at the end, scene of java. i miss that place. the other day i was in the store and i got this bizarre image of people carrying around the person they were talking to instead of their cell phone. it was like the population doubled within the store. it made me laugh, and then i headed to self-checkout so as to not have to explain my erratic giggles.

    seriously though, i think that question is totally relevant...and i feel like my life should be asking people that question..because when i'm asking it myself and living out the answer, it will cause others to question themselves....not always, but some.

    and you can see in the eyes.

    AND, you are going to send me books?? best. friend. you can check out my amazon list, and even have them ship it to me without you having to mess with it...i did that for my friend jill in india, it was the coolest thing.

    er, but i mean only if you want....don't feel like i'm expecting you to become my book sugar daddy.

    and sara is rubbing off on me...i don't usually leave this long of comments!

  3. You say it like it's a bad thing...

  4. hah...you know i love your extended post scripts...they are my favorite.

    luke, just found your comment on my sneaky post :) thanks friend. your words really encourage me. and when is this coffee thing supposed to happen? I know you are coming in next weekend, and I work, so we could maybe do a Monday lunch again. shoot me an email or phone call