The Coffee Cup

The Coffee Cup

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I am finishing a cup of coffee. If it's a typical day, and if this about seven in the morning, then it's my first cup of the day. As I put the mug in the sink, I think already there's a lot to do. Soon I'll be at work. Mornings are frenetic there. Attorneys begin their days by listing every task that needs doing and they don't leave anything out. As a rule, the hours before lunch are spent pumping out authoritative letters printed on watermarked bond and only once it's clear that the firm will hit its mark for the day's business, will things quiet down. During one of these morning sessions, my boss told me that while waiting in line at the supermarket, he used the time to plan out exactly how many slices of ham he would need for the week ahead. Having been the type of person who did not know how many slices of ham he would need for, or if he would even want ham, I feel an odd admiration.

Which brings me to my second cup of coffee. Work allowing, this comes at around eleven from the coffee machine at the firm. As I take this coffee back to my desk, I think how the line between what I do when I study and what I do in my spare time is beginning to blur. When I learn, I want that knowledge to be a part of me, not just information for some exam. This, then is the introspective cup of coffee. It asks me to pry into the many dimensions of "I" and tease out their relation to the more general "we." It's the context in which those interior thoughts are demanded which makes this cup of coffee a little harder to drink. The considerations of "need" and "should" and other are eternal. They are the forces that shape us, in some ways through feelings like shame or guilt, but in other ways through feelings like admiration and respect. The honest external element isn't simply what I've been told makes good character or good virtue, but how I understand and judge the many was of having unique character and personality. Those considerations speak to the way I see other people and also to the different ways I see myself. When I drink coffee this way, the introduction of "should" doesn't change the goal of finding the words which unlock what I want, it just changes my understanding of what a description of myself might be.

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If I'm going to understand how I describe myself, even while drinking coffee, then I'll also need to understand why I see that cup of coffee in the way that I see it. Since I have access to only limited parts of my own enculturation, the investigation of that "I" needs to become a discussion of who I am in the context of what has shaped me as a person. So far so good. I finish this cup of coffee, straighten up my desk, and head out for school.

I park my Saturn in the SUNY parking lot and step outside. I'm never comfortable in a shirt at tie at school. I try to laugh it off, reminding myself that over the last few months people who see me in a suit have gotten used to it. I wonder why this collision of environments bothers me, or more generally, why would it bother anyone at all? I realize that it would be presumptuous to answer the second part without being able to answer the first, so I chose to assume that my life is the only one I can properly understand and that everyone understands their own life in a certain way. Perhaps collision is a universal purpose, or a self-determined fate. Perhaps it's something more complicated. Can you have two identical lives take radically different directions because of luck? Or is there a reason, in asking about understanding, to suppose that the whole life has to be considered as a whole thing? If I can't get through a day without having to question my movement from one environment to another, how can I look at my intentions and obligations in relation to my friends, school, family, my goals today, or my goals this year? There's no mandate of permanence in adopting any of those as a way of understanding myself. There's nothing profound about claiming people understand themselves. But then I begin to suspect that without any "should," the weighty nature of self-reflection is gone. Now, in describing myself, I feel I need to highlight these sort of actions, these attempts at understanding, because no mater how detailed I chose to break down the understanding I have of my life, I question not only convictions, but beliefs, actions, and inactions as the multiple dimensions of my "I."

Time for the Ritazza Café and cup of coffee number three. Espresso, two shots, two sugars, stir well. In class we'll talk bout whether or not Ancient Greek life was childish when compared to our modern conceptions of moral agency and responsibility. So far it seems as if the Greeks thought about the world literally, in terms of how a thing was and what it did. There seems to be a lesser concern for how it fits into bigger supreme conceptions of everything, or is that just our texts speaking through me?

The other I day, I met up with a friend from class in this café. It was only a few minutes before the two-thirty grid kicked in and all the tables were packed. While we were talking, an unexpected quiet came over the room, one of those spontaneous, random, moments of silence where the world seems to suddenly retreat. These moments are odd and unexpected and completely incongruous to the ordinary minute by minute reality of the café. In a second it would be gone. I turned to my friend and said, "You know, I wonder if there's a way to we could mathematically predict when the next moment of silence might occur."

My friend stared at me. The he said, "Why would you want to do that? Even if you knew where to start, it would take hours. It has nothing to do with what we're studying. It's not even on the syllabus." I nod to acknowledge that he's right. But, of course, I completely disagree. And as I walk up the stairs to the second floor the Humanities building I go right on thinking about it. Soon I'll be home where I have chores, phone calls, the dogs to feed. I think about these moments, what they are, what they have to do with each other. I wonder if there's any way I can relate them all. I think that the purpose of deliberation is to provide reasons. I think that if I'm trying to understand myself, the first steps might be to understand the decisions I make minute by minute. And, in the moments without deliberation, I make a note to myself to keep an ear out for odd silences at the office. Maybe there's a pattern between the collective lull of voices in a room I can extend across environments.

All this has continued through my fourth cup of coffee, the last of the day, the one I drink while standing over the kitchen sink when I get home from class, one eye on the clock, one eye looking through the kitchen window to the backyard where the color is coming back into the maples and dogwoods that are taking over the neighborhood. Some things make sense without any introspection at all. I tell myself I don't need to know how much ham I'll need next week. I tell myself there are some things that do not need to be predicted. I tell myself I should probably not think too much about silence.

And I remember that the mug I am using for this cup of coffee is, in a way, also part of a pattern. The store where I bought it doesn't exits anymore. It was blown away in a storm. The wind went at it until it collapsed in on itself and became the past. Yet something of that store remains and is here and is mine because I bought it and took care of it and kept t with me. Not unlike my boss's many examples of organization. Not unlike the random silences of the café. And there is this feeling, wherever it comes from, of satisfaction. And I put my coffee cup in the dishwasher.
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