I was running behind for a meet-up with one of the kids I mentor. It’s become a tradition that I pick up iced coffees for us before we meet. “Two medium iced coffees: one cold brew, caramel swirl, black with three sugars; one decaf, coconut and raspberry, with skim milk and one Sweet’n’Low.” (Care to guess which belongs to whom?)
The people before me had placed large orders, and the shop seemed to be low on staff. Usually, I’d use that time to strike up some light conversation with whomever happened to be waiting in line along with me. This morning, however, there was no conversation. My mind was somewhere out beyond the people in front of me. And though I love mentoring, my mind was even out beyond my upcoming (and as yet un-started) time with the kid for whom I’d soon be ordering coffee. A giant unseen clock boomed and echoed inside.
Late, late, late.
And I imagined I’d be late for much that day, well into the evening. Jam packed — a feeling I describe as being stuffed toward the narrow end of a funnel.
Finally, I’d placed my order and picked it up at the far end of the counter. I’m not sure I even thanked the server. Maybe I did out of sheer habit. But there was nothing by way of intentional interaction there.
I grabbed a couple of straws and threw them onto the tray that held the two cups of iced coffee, then made a bee-line for the doors. The car. The road that somehow seemed to symbolize all that needed to be done before the day was out.
That’s when I tripped.
Had it not been for the snug fit of the lids on the cups, and the cups in the tray — the latter of which definitely bounded down below a 45-degree angle as I stumbled headlong into the plate glass window — those coffees would have gone sloshing to the tile floor.
When I finally found my footing again (if not yet my dignity), I glanced down to see what I’d run into. It turned out to be a knee-high, neon yellow, plastic easel sign with bold black lettering:
CAUTION / CUIDADO
Well, there’s irony for you.
It wasn’t even the by-now-only-slightly-wet floor that had gotten me. It was the sign itself.
I laughed aloud in chagrin.
Yet at the same time, the bigger irony wasn’t lost on me.
As a general rule, I’m successful more often than not at staying in the present. I have my go-to strategies that really work, things I write and speak about often. Yet no matter how Zen any of us may be, we all can wind up getting so distracted by the harrying then — busyness, worry, regret, irritation, anger — that we wind up missing the beautiful now that’s right in front of us.
Tripping over the obvious was just about the best thing that could have happened to me that morning. Strangely, within moments of doing so, I noticed what a beautiful day it was outside. I heard the wind rustling the green leaves. I saw the shadow play on the ground.
I was able to regroup, refocus. I remembered the original point of the iced coffee tradition, the care I intended to show to a young man who certainly would not mind having waited three minutes in my driveway for me to arrive.
And, for the time being, that giant booming clock unwound and fell silent.