On this last day of 2017, it is 15 degrees and a light snow has fallen on the inches remaining from the days before. Being newly returned to my hometown, I decided to have breakfast at an establishment that I often patronized before I left town eight years ago. Many changes have taken place in Detroit in my absence, but I am happy to find that the three egg omelet, hash browns, and coffee breakfast are just as good as when I left the city.
Now, in the Grill was a “Coffee Girl”, fitting the description in the Book of Judith, Chapter 8, verse 7:
“She was beautifully formed and lovely to behold”
Wearing jeans, a black long sleeve V-neck sweater over a black t-shirt and black Ugg boots, she walked among the customers with grace and a smile, filling cups and offering a pleasant conversation. She reminded me of a warm breeze that caresses you like a long lost love after an extended time apart. With each step, she brought joy and filled cups with her comfort.
I observed her while being cautious of not dwelling on her beauty and the peace that she provided. Instead, I sipped my coffee and thought of this past year and the events that led me back home and to this morning’s breakfast. I thought of a year that began with such promise but was filled with events that revealed unexpected truths and unexpected resolutions of issues from days gone by.
Thoughts of completing my research study and dissertation defense only to be sidetracked on March 25th, by an incident of overt discrimination on campus that led to victim blaming and the minimization of the negative treatment that I have experienced over the last eight years. I was treated as if my life is insignificant and does not matter any more than unenforced policies of inclusion and non-discrimination. In spite of the many obstacles and excessive financial burden that has been heaped upon me, I completed my research study and submitted my dissertation documents for review. The New Year will bring additional edits and a dissertation defense before the end of March.
My cup was refilled and I sipped some more coffee while shifting my thoughts to the family. Thoughts of the distance between the ones I love and the ones I have loved in the past. The many thoughts of my sons, my mother, my sisters, brothers, aunt, uncle and the thoughts of sacrifice and loss. Thoughts of relationships sacrificed for peace of mind and peace among family.
Some say that family is everything and that family issues should not keep family members apart. I believe that avoiding domestic conflict and isolating yourself from disruptive family interactions is an act of love. It is better to walk away from battles that can’t be won and family members that insist on maintaining conflict. This is the advice that I have given and the advice that I am obligated to follow. However, it is a difficult and lonely path that leads to peace of mind but a troubled heart.
Another sip and another thought of my sons that lost their mother in August. I had not seen or spoken to my x-wife in nine years, but hearing of her death was painful. I was heartbroken for our sons, now young men but too young to lose their mother. I felt their loss and am still troubled by the position that they are in due to their mother’s absence and the results of the parental alienation that she engaged in, causing a barrier between us. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my father divorced my mother and she passed away after alienating me from him. My prayer is that they may overcome the experiences that have been thrust upon them and that they become stronger in their personal relationships.
Relationships are essential to a happy life and this past year has revealed the importance of good friends and good relationships. When you attempt to develop positive relationships and find that some people have no interest in engaging with you, those that are receptive become a welcome relief. I had two such people in the city that I left before returning home. One is a former manager that became a friend and the other is a colleague that demonstrated that even in the worst environments there is always someone that has the wisdom and integrity to see beyond the attempts to diminish and devalue you. These positive relationships sustained me in a hostile atmosphere where leadership insisted through their actions and inactions that my life does not matter to them. When it became more and more apparent that my life does not matter in that community, it was time for me to leave.
Good friends and good relationships led me back home. As I sat and watched the Coffee Girl refill my cup I thought of how the warmth and comfort that she dispensed was an analogy for my return to a city that in many ways is well formed and beautiful to behold. Detroit has many challenges and issues that are magnified in the media. But growing up in Detroit makes you strong and resilient. I could not have survived my experiences of the past eight years if it wasn’t for the lessons learned from my parents and from growing up in Detroit.
Bad associations and bad relationships can lead to your demise. Good relationships and good associations can be your saving grace. In my case, a good friend invited me to come back to Detroit and he has provided a home for me while I reestablish myself. A former employer that I contacted for a reference invited me to return and work for her. These positive relationships have restored the confidence that was drained from me. They have filled and warmed my cup just like the Coffee Girl’s warm smile and gentle pour.
Consuming more coffee, I think about the New Year and about the many opportunities that 2018 will bring. The completion of my dissertation, developing the many projects that have been waiting for more of my attention, developing new and better relationships and perhaps finding a Judith of my own to grow with. Some of my goals for the New Year are becoming politically active again, contributing to my hometown’s rebirth and fighting against the discrimination and corruption that continues to plague our country and threaten the quality of life for the majority of our citizens.
With 2017 waining and 2018 looming on the horizon I invite you to join me for a cup of coffee and conversation about how we can warm the lives of all we encounter during the New Year and years to come. Perhaps we will be served by our city, with grace and a smile, just as the Coffee Girl serves many daily.