Coffee and a Breakfast Wrap

I met Darlene at the café on the first floor of the doctor’s building. And before I met her, I heard her ordering at the counter. The cashier had asked how she was doing, and she had answered with: Not wonderful.

She had an elbow propped on the counter and her gray head in her hand. I was surprised when she carried her coffee over and sat in the armchair across from mine, with only a table between us— the kind of space that makes you feel like you should say something. It started when I looked over my shoulder to see a table of older folks with paper coffee cups and Bibles.

“Ministers’ meeting,” Darlene said when she saw me looking. “I guess they need encouragement, too, just like the rest of us.”  

She had little hands in her lap and bags under her eyes and was casting them out the front windows, where rain blew. It was a few weeks before Christmas, wet and bitter.

“My dad is a pastor,” I said, “so I understand that a little bit.”

“Oh, he is?” she brightened, then asked, “What church?”

Hers is United Church of Christ, she said, and she lives on East Fifth and has six children and one sister and a man friend, because her husband died six years ago— an amputee who needed her help just to keep from falling out of bed. Her children are all scattered, she told me four times, in Maine and Idaho and Arizona, except for a son in Labadie whom she dismissed with a flick of her hand. And her grandchildren? They’re off at elite schools as engineers and dentists. One had even been a student of Harvard, and I acted impressed while watching her sit there alone with her breakfast wrap.

She said COVID a few weeks ago had stolen her appetite, so she just held the thing while she talked, clearly more hungry for conversation— for whatever encouragement the ministers were enjoying to be offered her like a warm cup of coffee. Half an hour passed before I realized she wasn’t waiting on anyone or for anything, but that she’d simply come for breakfast and the hope that someone else might be there, too.

Breakfast with a friend, that’s all she wanted, and I think the friendliest thing I could do was share it with her the way Jesus did, when he met the disciples on that bright morning by the sea. “Come and have breakfast with me,” he called, because they were hungry but unable to catch anything. Jesus knew the fishermen’s hunger ran deeper than their stomachs, and that he was soon to depart to set the table for a feast that would fill them forever. But first, he served up fish and bread. Because sometimes, a meal with friends helps introduce us to who Jesus is— be it bread and wine, or bread and fish, or coffee and a café breakfast wrap.  

“The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied.” ~ Psalm 22:26

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