It had been way too long. My friend and I were past due a sit-down time to catch-up and remind each other of why we continued to want to stay connected in each other’s life. We picked the date and the time and of course, the usual place – a Starbucks somewhere between his office and mine.
Immediately upon entering the familiar coffee shop, my heart dropped. I realized that like the Starbucks closer to home, that this location had also been the victim of the “Starbucks Remodeling Venture” … more machine, less human being. Gone were the cushy chairs. Gone were the seating arrangements in tight spaces where conversation could occur. Gone were the atmospheric incentives to sit in a coffee shop and actually relax and reflect upon my own thoughts or those of the person sitting across from me. Instead, there were displays of product to be sold, well-directed paths telling me where to stand in line and rows of tables which now hold our most modern conversational partner – the laptop.
I asked my friend if he had found a place to sit. He shook his head in both affirmation and frustration. The only seats available in the house were two hard wooden chairs sitting side-by-side at what looked like a long table for studying found somewhere in a college library. All the two-top tables were occupied by single people facing their screens. A row of chairs, eerily empty and available, sat opposite those screen-watchers while my friend and I shared our moments of connection squeezed at a table shoulder to shoulder with eight strangers.
What is our world turning into? We have more technology than ever before to communicate, stay in touch and cross global barriers in a flash of seconds all the while witnessing the death of human connection, face to face, in real time. This transformation as to how we do life and relationship is concretely displayed at a place like Starbucks but I also see it day in and day out in my office. We text. We sext. We email. We blog. We shop online. We Facebook to an audience of our many “friends.” In fact, soon we can do everything we need to do in our life with our eyes locked on a screen. We can present our measured self at its best. No spontaneity, no mess, all packaged … just waiting to hit the “send” button.
And yet, we are more lonely than ever before … and more and more clueless when it comes to the know-how of real emotional intimacy. I really don’t blame Starbucks for this change. Or even Facebook, for that matter. They are just business folks who are adapting their environment to fit the technological demand. But one thing I am clear about … we can do away with the conversational chairs in Starbucks but good luck ridding the human heart of its need for genuine contact. It just ain’t gonna happen. Emotional connection is to the heart what oxygen is the lungs. The creation of intimacy requires first that I sit with my own thoughts and feelings as a learned curiosity. It takes an investment of time and effort to construct the space for the profundities of our inner life to surface. And then as we risk exposing our cores to another and they with us, we each expand in the knowing, tolerating and appreciating of our innermost worlds. True affection then takes root and grows … giving us the opportunity to know the fullness of the human experience.
On that cold February morning, I could have easily taken my laptop into Starbucks. I could have gazed at a blank screen and wondered what to write about this month. But instead, I sat across from my dear friend, Ivan, in an engagement of real relationship. And he became the inspiration that got my emotional and intellectual juices flowing. Thank you, my friend. Not only do I treasure your company but I appreciate the reminder that intimacy is worth the fight … even when there is no longer a cushy chair to be had.