There is a strange kind of calmness amidst a coffee shop’s chaos. The jukebox spins 90s pop songs as baristas brew and serve coffee blends in a perfect synchronization, as if it were a dance routine practiced to perfection. Around me, china cups rest dangerously close to the edges of plastic trays and silver spoons clink lazily against the edges of porcelain. The hubbub from humanity huddled in animated conversation fills the air as words mingle with aromas of coffee and grilled cheese and smoke swirls rise seductively from mugs of every shape and size.
For some, a busy coffee shop might seem like the worst place to try and get work done. Not for me though. When time allows, simply sitting at coffee shops is one of my favorite things to do – here the world slows down, personalities emerge and stories come alive. The books being read, the drinks being ordered, the conversations being had. People meet at a coffee shop for every situation imaginable: to interview for new jobs, to plan exits from old ones, to date and break up, to complain with disgust and to brainstorm with giddy whispers. Every visible detail serves as a spotlight of someone’s personality and sometimes character too. But, as if to tease, these things are never enough to tell their whole story.
Sometimes, you get a little more of a glimpse–while standing in line, waiting for a drink, sharing a table. Here, collisions are made and more details from stories unfold. This is also one reason I am addicted to travel – these collisions: chance encounters with interesting people enrich your life in subtle and sometimes unimaginable ways. Without these, the people you meet, the days you live, can get a bit circular, routine even. For me, anyway.
I’ve learned there is a word for this feeling – to sonder. Apparently, “sonder” is a fake word, and in fact more of an expression, or a realization. To sonder is to realize that everyone around you is living those same complex, dynamic lives that we sometimes tend to think is specific only to ourselves. How will tackle that specific problem? ………How do we handle work stress? ……I can’t wait for the weekend… What’s meeting tomorrow night going to be like? Is my promotion coming, or is it not? All these seemingly-personal musings and questions are going on around us, at all times. And we can’t see them.
Except at coffee shops, where if you close your eyes an imagine it, you can almost visualize the stories, you will see words drifting lazily, skimming the tops of heads and mixing with the lyrics of that Bon Jovi number that’s playing for the second time.
Sometimes, these intersections change your own orbit, providing new ideas, longer conversations, even friendships. If you’re like me and get lost in your people-watching, a coffee shop may not be the best place for professional output. But, with practice, I have found you can have both: a lazy bout of sondering while getting work done as well.