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Conversations in coffee shops with strangers #1

I try to meet up with my parents on a Saturday morning and go for coffee with them. When I was younger I had a very complicated relationship with them (don’t most teenagers?) but as I’ve matured I’m beginning to understand how important it is to get to know them as people following their own paths.

My parents separated when I was 13, but didn’t divorce until I was 21. That’s a story for another time.

This morning I met up with my dad to go for coffee. I’m pretty much always late, as I have to get two buses to get to him (here’s to you, Southampton buses, for providing no easy route between Shirley and Portswood. Thanks for that) and he always arrives 10 minutes early. We usually go looking around charity shops together, but I hadn’t seen him in almost a month so instead we just sat and talked over coffee.

We chatted about work, mainly, and then he asked how my therapy sessions were going. He also asked how I was coping with my nan’s death and I spoke honestly about how I felt. We spoke about her dementia, and my dad’s mum’s dementia (I only remember meeting her once when I was quite small) and how we felt during that time. As we were talking a man sat behind me caught my dad’s eye and said, in a natural pause in our conversation, “you’ve just described my experience with my mum.”

I turned my chair to include him in the conversation and we spoke about just how difficult it was to see friends and family struggling with dementia. About watching someone you know and love struggle to recall past events or remember who you are. About how precious the good memories are.
In the moments before this conversation, he was just a man reading a paper in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning. By the time my dad and I had left, he was a man who knew how I was feeling, how my dad had felt.

Sometimes I feel really quite alone in my experiences. I know this is common; we put our headphones in on the bus, we engage in meaningless phone-scrolling when we are waiting in line for coffee or we simply turn away when someone we don’t know catches our eye. I turn inward when I feel particularly anxious or upset.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I try to keep this in mind when I’m around people I don’t know. Today I feel that kindness was returned.

As much as it’s important to be kind to others, it’s also rewarding to accept the kindness that’s extended to me. My reminder that being a little more present and honest in a society that doesn’t necessarily value sharing difficult experiences can completely change my frame of mind and how isolated I feel.

Let’s see past the hollow How Are You’s. Let’s have a real conversation.

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