A Cup of Coffee

By Val Roseberry

David Thorson worked at SPiN Café, and he is, incidentally, one of the finest people I have had the chance to work with. David on several occasions made this statement: 

“Sometimes a simple, consistent cup of coffee is the only stability a person has in their life.”

In a simple cup: dignity, comfort, stability. Maybe even something sacred.

When people ask me what I do as a part time worker at SPiN Café, I tell them I pour coffee. Truly a large amount of my work involves the coffee maker. I try to do Bob Taylor proud. Bob is St. Stephen’s courageous and true unofficial guardian of the intimidating coffee maker in the kitchen. Each day my coworkers and I make pot after pot of coffee. 2 and a half scoops of grounds, pour water from the clear carafe, Voila!

Pouring a cup of coffee has become a meditative act for me.  I watch the dark liquid splash into the cup and thrill a little as tendrils of cream swirl and loop, turning the coffee a delicious light brown.  I hand the cup over, past the speed bump of the counter on the other side of the window. I put it into a SPiN guest’s hands, hands often roughened, sometimes stained, from the cares of the world.

SPiN Manager Fe Mischo and I have fun learning each guest’s regular order.  Black?  Cream?  How many sugars?  “Black like the Death Star in Star Wars!” “Put the creamer in first, please, it mixes better.”  “Creamer if it’s something other than French Vanilla.” “Add some water please, so it’s not too strong.” “I only like coffee when it’s thick enough to stir.”

One of the most memorable cups of coffee I ever had, I had at SPiN Café.  One of our guests was released from weeks at the hospital after the trajectory of his life changed permanently in the blink of an eye due to an accident.  We worried about him for weeks, and were grateful he was alive and back among us.  After being there for a while one day, he came to the counter and said he just wanted a cup of iced coffee… could I do that?

I went to grab ice and pour a cup. He said, “Hold up, not like that.  First, six packets of sugar.  Then cream, then a packet of hot cocoa, then the coffee.  Then, two cups with ice please?”

“Two cups?  Why two cups?” I asked.

I got him the cups and he split the coffee and handed me one.  I took a sip and it was the best iced mocha I think I’ve ever tasted.  He was delighted to share it with me. I tried not to cry at the honor of being invited into and included in his ritual of simple joy

We’re Northwesterners.  We know like no other region that a good cup of coffee—with no inhibition about additives or worries about flavors being a little too much — is good for the soul. 

A consistent cup of coffee, poured each morning by a human with a smile, can do wonders for a person.

It’s not just the coffee.  It’s the consistency.  Those cups of coffee can be counted on.  SPiN guests can’t count on money to pay their bills.  They can’t count on a car, whether for transportation or protection from the elements, to stay running, or money to pay for gas.  Many can’t count on people in their lives.  Relationships with families may be fractured, or they may have no loved ones left. 

Consistency is hard to come by for many SPiN guests.

But a cup of coffee can be counted on. It’s one piece of steadiness.  It can be a cup of warmth with a jolt of caffeine in the bleary-eyed morning at 6:30 AM, after being wakened at the Haven at 5:30 to pack up for a van ride to SPiN. 

That warm cup can be one constant in a sea of uncertainty, scarcity, and fatigue.

The needs our guests face every day are so great that we workers feel overwhelmed at times by the immensity of problems we can’t fix.  We can’t fix mental illness or addiction.  We can’t fix systems that are so tough to navigate, especially while battling mental illness or addiction.  We can’t fix the lack of affordable housing in the Northwest and here on Whidbey.  We can’t buy each guest a house or pay their bills.  We can’t make health issues go away or make the voices screaming inside their own brains any kinder.

But we can pour a cup of coffee: black like the Death Star, or extra cream please, or with 4 sugars.  We can hand that coffee over with a smile. We can do it every day. With consistency. We can give our guests a little dignity, a little comfort, a little stability.

We can do that. It’s not much.  But it’s something. 

It might even be something sacred.

Val Roseberry is SPiN’s Lunch Administrator and a member of St. Stephens Episcopal Church