July 21, 2012

Appreciating Customers

I was watching CNN last night, in the wake of the Colorado shooting, spinning on an elliptical machine, still trying to will some pop back in to my fatigued legs. The anchor, I forget who, asked the guest, a congressman, something about potential legislation to prevent assault weapons from being so readily available. I forgot all of that, because I only remember than answer, or more specifically, the gist of it. The interviewee dodged, said that this was not the time to look for answers or solutions, but to mourn. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims," he said.

And, no disrespect to thoughts, prayers, or those who indulge in either, but neither of those save lives, especially after the fact. It's easy to feel sorry; it's a lot harder to do something, especially when that something might be politically disadvantageous. But going on TV, and saying how sad you are? That's good PR, not to mention damn easy.

If this feels like an out of place political rant, misplaced on a coffee blog, give me a second to bring things around, because I don't mean it to be.

I returned from an abbreviated long run this morning, feeling rejuvenated, drenched with sweat and pleasantly sore. Still, I couldn't help but think back to another part of last night's coverage. The segment focused on the suddenness of the whole thing, on how, as we always hear, people can be taken from you so quickly. There were significant others, friends, and parents, hysterical with grief. I changed the channel last night, and I changed my thoughts this morning. I couldn't help but feel voyeuristic on both occasions, watching from a comfortable distance.

So I logged on to Facebook, hoping to ground myself in the usual trivialities. There were those things, but here was also an update from a coffee shop I'm friends with, with a link to an obituary for a customer of theirs. (To be clear, his death was not related to the Colorado shooting.) Again, I found myself witness to the sadness of others, listening and reading about the ablation of life.

Humans are social creatures. This is not a revelation, and is basically accepted as fact by anyone with a passing interest in either anthropology or biology. But this job, standing opposite hundreds of people a day, many of them every day, uniquely satisfies that primordial piece of humanity. Sure, I give them coffee and they give me money, but there is a deeper exchange. We trade in stories, emotions, expressions and sometimes, nothing much at all beyond mere presence.

I'm not saying to hug your customers or obsess over the negative aspect of "you never know". What I am saying is that they are people who choose, however often, to involve themselves in your life, and you in theirs. Most of all, I'm saying that that's significant at the most basic and beautiful level, and we can't possibly appreciate it enough. Still, it can't hurt to try.

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