A Not-too-long, Boring, but Encouraging Coffee Shop Story

I often do some writing and editing at several local coffee shops. There is something about the energy I get from being around other people, mostly strangers, that draws words out of me.

Most of my visits to those diner-style coffee shops are uneventful. Some, more eventful. Others, very profound. (Even if only in a subtle way)

Two days ago, I stopped by my favorite local haunt to spend an hour editing the final draft of my new book, read a bit, and get a few cups of java down in me. The place was nearly empty when I arrived. After 30 minutes, I was the only customer there.

As I edited, I heard the shift manager complaining to the cook about the state of some other employees who call in often, are late, or just no-call/no-shows. The two men commiserated a bit as they swept the floor, rolled utensils tightly in paper napkins,  and did other tasks. Also, the manager called some servers on the phone in an attempt to shore-up the schedule for the rest of the week. He was only partially successful it seemed.

Then, a young (maybe 16 or 17 year old) waitress showed up. As she was walking in, the manager met her at the door, motioning with his arms in an “I don’t need you here” fashion. She walked in anyway, asking what the deal was. He explained that she had called in with only minutes notice a few days prior, put the rest of that day’s workers in a bind, and that he was considering firing her. She attempted to smooth the situation over, but wasn’t successful and left. A few minutes later, she came back in with a middle-aged man and  both walked toward the manager. I thought to myself, “This may turn into a blow-out,” and readied my camera phone just in case a video-worthy event took place. I have seen too many things get out of hand over the years and I am a bit edgy when I see people possibly heading toward a serious contention. I figured this guy might be “dad” coming in to straighten the boss out on behalf of his daughter.

The man and the manager started talking about the situation… and I was wonderfully surprised. I am a sucker for civil conversation. I absolutely love engaging in respectful discourse, even if the participants don’t agree on a particular matter. Also, I so rarely observe disagreeing parties in person or on social media who are able to succinctly present their case, hear the other’s, discuss both sides, and then achieve an amicable resolution, respectfully disagree, or agree on something that was previously disagreed on. Beyond that, observing a person change his or her mind on a firmly held position in 2015 is nigh to seeing a unicorn at the park.

Due to my persuasions regarding discourse, I was very happy to observe the manager express his concerns about the server’s performance and reliability in a respectful way and with an even temper. Then, the father-figure apologized for the issues on behalf of the girl. He asked for a second chance for the girl and gave credibility to the manager’s concerns. Also, the girl assured the manager of her commitment to do better and genuinely gave heed to his concerns. After some more conversation and consideration, the manager allowed for a write-up rather than firing. He clearly shared his expectations, which were reasonable, and the consequences present if they were not met. All parties ended the conversation respectfully, amicably, having reached a common position, and asserting a common goal. Not one voice had even been raised through the whole parley. I had to pinch myself.

I know that was a boring, everyday type of story. But, there is a great lesson to be gained. That being, our abilities to deal with other people, have conflicts, argue, discourse, and find common ground (or not) are “everyday” skills. They aren’t just for a college debate class, the board room, marriage counseling, or when some aspect of a relationship breaks down. Those abilities are for the coffee shop, for Facebook threads, for our home, for our friends, and even for our enemies.

Witnessing that interaction between three strangers encouraged me. I personally hope to do as well the next time I have some type of disagreement. Fellow humans, we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. Pass the love on! 🙂

Here is a related TED talk by William Ury that I very much enjoy. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it would be worth your time.

-Luke

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Regarding My 37th Birthday and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Luke Austin Daugherty on his 37th birthday.

Luke Austin Daugherty on his 37th birthday. -Photo credit: Nathanael Daugherty

I am a fresh 37 years old today. It is not a very impressive year in any obvious way. Not 30 or 40. Not even 35, splitting the difference between the two. Yet, I am now as happy and content as I recollect ever being on a birthday morning from a data set of thirty-seven. 

It has been an interesting experiment for me on several occasions to contrast myself at a particular age to a well-known person or a person I admire in some way. Due to the flapping of the butterfly’s wings and the serendipity of chance, I have occasion to do that today. Several weeks ago, Robin Williams took his own life, which caused me to reflect on how the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” had such an impact on me as a teenager. Reflecting on that movie brought Walt Whitman to mind, a favorite poet of mine. Yesterday, unrelated to the previous scenario, a friend on Facebook shared a list of questions given to Karl Marx by his daughters in 1865. I decided to write my own set of answers. In doing so, I needed to refer to, “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman, which had been brought to mind earlier this month by Robin Williams’s death. 

As I read the beginning of, “Song of Myself,” I realized that Whitman was writing the poem at the age of 37. Toward the beginning of the poem, Whitman mentioned his age specifically and that he was in good health. I wondered if he actually wrote it on his own birthday or at least started the poem then, since it is fairly long. Being one day shy of 37 when I noticed that yesterday, I committed to myself to revisit Whitman and his poem today, on my 37th birthday. That may seem the long way around to arrive at this point in my birthday blog, but it has always interested me how the laws of cause and effect operate in one’s life. 

Walt Whitman at approximately my own present age

Walt Whitman at approximately my own present age

I suppose the greatest commonality I share with Whitman is that we’re both (or rather, he was and I am) a scripturient. Aside from that, we share indie/self-published author status. I have always admired the fact that he published, “Leaves of Grass,” on his own dime. Thus far, every album and book I have published has been done the same way. I don’t even know if I would want to change that. I am feverishly territorial and independent about my writing and process. Both Whitman and I are beardy men. (I reckon I’ll just speak of him as though he was in the present tense for sake of ease and simplicity) I have had a much more epic beard previously than I do now. I am currently trimming it at a #4 length and it used to be several inches long. It seems, by the available pictures, that Whitman’s beard grew in length as he grew more long in the tooth. 

“Song of Myself,” has been oft criticized for more than a century as the most egotistical poem ever written. Even if that were true, I do not see it as a negative. It isn’t a bad thing to love one’s own self, so long as it doesn’t lead to narcissism, spite for others, or destructive selfishness. I think it takes several decades of life to learn to really love yourself well and independent of the critique of others. I believe that it is very difficult to love others properly without loving one’s self first. A self-hater rarely finds anything untainted to offer a fellow human, even when he or she would like to. So, I hold no penalty toward Whitman for esteeming himself well. Loving yourself also does not have a direct correlation to degrading others or celebrating them less in proportion. Perhaps the opposite tends to be the rule. 

Below are just a few selected lines from, “Song of Myself,” which I most relate to or find inspirational now in my own 37th year as Whitman was when he wrote them.

“I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.”

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the
     origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are
     millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor
     look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the
     spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things
     from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.”

“These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
     they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or
     next to nothing,”

“Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in
  ”   which they are won.”

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is
     myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or
     ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can
     wait.” 

“I seize the descending man and raise him with resistless will,
O despairer, here is my neck,
By God, you shall not go down! hang your whole weight
     upon me.”

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)” 

For the complete text, please visit this link:

“Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman