Fortress of Solitude

It’s 10:30 A.M., and I’m sitting in my hometown’s best local coffeehouse. The sounds of coffee being ground, brewed, and poured fill my ears, and delicious scents of pastries and breakfast burritos fill the room. The walls and ceiling are done almost entirely in wood paneling (none of it matching), and the lamps and chairs look as though someone brought them from home. Local art, children’s drawings, and bottles of flavored syrup crowd the walls, and a string of old Christmas lights stretches from one side of the shop to the other. A bit of faint music can be heard, playing on a barista’s phone behind the bar. It sounds like indie. Chatter fills the room, adults and teens alike waiting for their morning cup of caffeine. I am surrounded by coffee addicts.

This is my fortress of solitude.

Let me explain a little bit.

The first time I found my fortress of solitude, I was standing in a Starbucks, waiting to grab a morning coffee (unfortunately, I didn’t know what local coffee shops were at the time). I had left my wallet in the car, intent on using mobile pay. However, when I reached the counter, I realized that I had left my phone in the car, too.

“Shoot, I left my wallet outside,” I told the barista. “Lemme just go get it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, smiling, “you seem pretty stressed, this one’s on me.”

I gave her a smile of gratitude and a hurried thanks, then moved to the side as she handed my cup down the line and greeted her next customer. As I was standing next to the milk jug and straw dispenser, I realized that I was still anxious. But why? I had just gotten a free coffee, what did I have to be anxious about? Then it dawned on me. I still didn’t have my phone.

I started making my way out of the shop to get it, keys in hand, when I heard another barista call out my name. I stopped dead in my tracks, wondering what he could possibly want (and drawing startled looks from the people I had stopped next to). Then I remembered…my coffee. Shaking my head to clear it, I walked back across the store and took the drink, giving the barista an absentminded smile. But this time, instead of making my way toward my phone, I simply took a seat next to the bar. I took a moment to breathe, look around, sip my coffee, and clear my head.

It was then that I really started to notice the other people in the store. Everyone was preoccupied with something. Whether it was a phone, a child, an untied shoe, the colorful menu overhead…

Even now, in this local joint, the situation seems to be the same. Two high-school girls in a booth are trading summer plans, a middle-aged woman at the next table is on the phone, discussing mortgage rates, and four people are standing in line for coffee, each on their phone, looking ready to march in a strange kind of parade.

And across the room, there is a scene straight out of a movie. An old man, sitting in an equally old armchair. I watch as he folds up a copy of today’s newspaper and sets it on the table next to him. He picks up a black coffee (made for him in a mug he brought from home) and casually takes a sip. His eyes are roving around the store, taking in customers, pastries, and cars passing by outside. He chuckles to himself as two customers, focused on their phones, bump into each other and apologize in sync.

There is at least one thing this man and I have in common. He too has found his fortress of solitude. In the middle of the crowd, the noise, and the bustle, he has found how to clear his head and appreciate the present.

We hear this a lot. “Clear your mind, live in the now, put down your phone, just BE!”

What we don’t realize is how easy it can be. Standing in line at the store, sitting on a bus, taking an elevator, sitting in a coffee shop, going to the restroom. All of these are moments we could use to breathe and relax. That being said, sometimes we really do need to take a call, text a friend, or calm a frantic child. But the next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or leave your phone in the car, think to yourself “this is my fortress of solitude.”

It’s amazing how relaxed we become when we take back those little moments.

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