Handsome Stranger

He was beautiful. But I was drawn to his presence. He was self-possessed but cool, confident but in a relaxed way. He wore gray knit shorts, flip flops, and a light blue t-shirt, but he was clearly put together. His hair was thick and dark, tinted auburn from the sun, with neatly trimmed scruff. His features were dark, aloof, and inviting. He was fit but not overly muscular. The cake was how he noticed his surroundings but focused on his reading and coffee. I snuck a peak at his book, something in French. I swooned.

I stopped myself, “Am I attracted t him, or do I want to be him?”  Maybe I just liked what seemed exotic, the allure of the opposite: his dark to my pale, his casual confidence to my constant inner questioning.

My eyes followed him as he left the coffee shop. He took a right and rounded the corner, walking past the large open window where I sat. Would he glance or smile? Or would he pass by, impervious to my interest?

He did indeed look my way and then veered in my direction with a grin. My heart leapt, until I realized he was stopping to say hello to friends at the table next to mine. His voice was warm and clear, friendly but firm, and not overly deep like so many men do to overcompensate. He congratulated a happy couple who is newly pregnant, and then went on his way, French novel and my fascination tucked under his arm.

I’m attracted to men all the time based on how they look or act. This was different. I was drawn to this guy’s sense of self and how he carried it. Clearly I am projecting onto a stranger what I wrestle within myself. “Who am I?” I wonder. And could I own myself, the way he does?

I have this hollow space carved out inside. There I turn ideas over and over, thinking and feeling my way through them. What sometimes is curiosity, is at other times insecurity. That inner question mark allows me to plumb the depths of a conversation or quandary. It can also make me ill at ease and lead me to gravitate toward those who are more self assured.

It’s like there’s an interior longing that turns round and round in the hollow. I can savor experiences and encounters, like the one today, lingering over reflection about identity and attraction. The trick seems to be easing up when the turning becomes churning.

I left the coffee shop this afternoon wondering if I’d see this guy again (probably not, seems straight). More importantly, I wondered what the sudden pang of self-reflection means. For awhile, I was kind of ‘praying’ that I’d one day be more at ease and confident, the way the handsome stranger was. Then I realized this hollowed out question mark is a part of me, both good and challenging, life-giving and distressing. And the ache I felt, was just the desire to share that part with others, friends and lovers alike. Deep calling to deep.

God, what a torrent of thinking came from a chance afternoon coffee. I can hear friends telling me to lighten up. But that’s the ocean within the hollow, the rush of emotion over the everyday experience. That is part of who I am, not be thrown away.

Fearfully and wonderfully made, huh? I doubt that sometimes. But then, sometimes I take the risk of believing it, and letting it become true.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know full well.”
–Psalm 139

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Day 30 – Believe

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I met Jason for coffee at Qualia in Petworth. Homey place. Good coffee. We sat outside and talked about church: how it’s changing, what it needs to adapt, and what part I might play. After an hour of brainstorming, I realized that he was encouraging me to see and to value the gifts I bring–as a teacher, a Hill staffer, a talker, a thinker. I came expecting to talk shop. He came to affirm me.

I don’t know where any of this leads in terms of future career. So far, I think it means becoming a priest. But I do believe he was right. All the experiences I’ve endured, the heart aches and triumphs, the skills and the doubts, could be drawn together in giving myself to something greater. I can take the next step in a direction not fully known, trusting that I have something to offer.

Later that night I met a group of friends at Compass Rose on 14th Street. What a madhouse that strip is now. Compass Rose, though, is delightful. The restaurant serves international street food in a renovated row house next to Saint Ex. Over a bottle of Georgian wine and khachapuri, we had a spirited conversation about travel, hymns, and sex. Mostly we talked sex. Imagine that, among a group of gay guys.

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I left buoyed by the conversation, not just the wine. It was a full day, full of the really good stuff that makes this world splendid sometimes: bread, wine, God, sex, laughter, friendship. I am grateful that people shared these last 30 days with me. And they shared more than the new coffee shop or restaurant. They shared a part of their story, and the things that make them tick, including the tragic and the sublime.

I come away from this month believing more. I believe that this city is full of tucked away places and unknown neighborhood spots. I believe that people have so much to offer just by sharing their thoughts and their fears. I believe that there is depth of spirit in everyday occurrences, waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to slow down, reflect, and maybe even write about what you have experienced.

This world is full of splendor and pain. All of it is worth savoring until it yields to that infinite, creative possibility that lies within it. Open your eyes, Jeremy. Think and feel. Taste and see that this world is good.

God, what a life you have given me.

 

Yet More Coffee

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P.S. I did try a new coffee shop today. La Colombe is in a hard-to-find, around-several-corners, surely-it’s-not-back-here location alleyway near the Convention Center. No signs. So you feel like you’ve discovered a secret just walking in the door.

Clean, airy feel, with large open windows. Laid back vibe. Good coffee. Interesting porcelain mugs and saucers. Pretty good prices for fair trade coffee. Nice spot for a first date, which was the (rare) occasion for me.

Day 18 – Stroll Down H Street

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I planned an H Street stroll weeks ago, but the real gem I stumbled into on a whim. I got off the X2 bus blocks before my stop because I had time to kill. And I wanted to see the development that has popped up in the last 3 years. A giant tea pot above a storefront window caught my eye. I paused long enough to snap a picture, but then decided to poke my head in.

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Inside I found a cozy, rustic Ethiopian coffee shop. Large burlap bags of coffee beans surround the bar like overstuffed Christmas gifts. Kid art on notebook paper covers a side wall. Through a nondescript back door I found a cozy, sunny garden for sitting and sipping. At the bar, a friendly woman served me good, remarkably affordable coffee. I smiled at the good fortune of finding this charming spot by accident. I took more pics, like an idiot tourist, and made my way down the sidewalk very content.

I was struck by how far west the development has gone. I passed tons of restaurants, a bike shop, a pet groomer, even a bocce/wine bar. Surely bocce is a sign that gentrification has arrived. Of course, I also saw what looked like remnants of a previous era–a Murray’s grocery, tax preparers, barber shops, a strip mall, and Popeyes.

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My destination was Table Church, where I met a handful of friends for the 5pm service. A year and a half ago, a group of young adults formed a new church based on gathering around a table, telling good stories, and eating good food. The music is a little Mumford and Sons, the vibe laid back, and the message light-touch, perfect for people burned by church. Some things felt a bit inauthentic or awkward, like the pastor carrying around his coffee mug (but not really drinking) to show how informal things are. But he, the people, and the service were very accessible. Hats off to people engaging the city with a fresh approach to faith.

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The same friends and I ended the evening at the Argonaut, where we deconstructed the service, drank beer, and ate fries. We reflected on what turned us on and what turned us off, but the discussion eventually turned to our own church, about who we are and want to be. The conversation was lively and fresh because we had ventured outside our zip code and comfort zone to see something different.

That’s exactly the point of this 30 day challenge. Is the coffee or church really that different on H Street? Hardly. But, God, it’s good to get out of Northwest DC and get a little fresh perspective.

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Day 3 – Unexpectedly Good Coffee

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I discovered this gem by accident. A few Sundays ago we were driving through the leafy, sleepy side streets of Logan, when I noticed a corner bar in the midst of a residential section. It was simple, spartan, and charming. Later I learned it was a coffee bar. The Coffee Bar in fact.

TCB converted an old neighborhood market into a coffee joint a year and a half ago. But it was new to me. So it was a natural pick for something different. 

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My friend took his black, while I waited for a latte. Cheeky signs perch atop the wide, sturdy sea foam green espresso maker. “This bitch is crazy” caught my eye. The vibe was relaxed, though, for a place that slings caffeine in uptight, button-down DC.

The latte, most importantly, was good. Really good.

I was reminded that there are simple, good things that make my day when they are crafted and savored with attention. How much time and money have I wasted at Starbucks? This creamy, tart goodness was waiting for me the whole time, tucked away at the corner of 12th and S.

I could go even further, drinking and savoring more coffee. I could learn to taste the bold, subtle differences. There’s this whole world of flavor already there. I just have to discover it.

That’s got to be an invitation to some kind of spiritual experience. It’s like something lingers just below the level of routine awareness, waiting to be tasted and enjoyed. The question is whether or not I’ll slow down and take the time to savor it.

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P.S. I found this WaPo article about TBC and the growing third wave coffee movement in DC. This blogger’s quote made me think and inspired this post.

“When I started, I never knew coffee could taste good,” said Reithmaier, 31, one of the region’s more prolific bloggers about the coffee scene. “And now I enjoy bringing that experience to other people, who can learn to love coffee, too.” This is how he hopes to convert residents in the District — one cup at a time.