Coffee Cups & Relationships

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend of mine, and it struck me that I’d spoken these words many times before. In fact, they were becoming something of a mantra, a piece of the personal manifesto puzzle.

In this conversation, I likened most aspects of my life to a coffee cup I recently purchased. Now, I am quite the coffee fanatic. I’ve no idea how I’d go about my day without it. Consequently, I attach a great deal of significance to the cup I drink my coffee from. It must be fairly large- I don’t want to refill the cup every five minutes. It also must be large in the right proportions- wide, not tall. Tallness in a cup creates a feeling of instability. Instead, I want a wide cup that feels stable, solid, trustworthy. I also want the cup to reflect my personal tastes, so tend to shy away from intricate designs, opting instead for a simple one. One would think that such a cup would be easy to come by, but in reality, I only recently found the perfect cup.

I now use this cup all morning, until I cut myself off from coffee, opting for water in the afternoon, when I switch to a structurally similar scotch glass. After dinner, I usually have a cup of hot tea, and I pull out the coffee cup again. That’s generally it- I use these two cups exclusively throughout my entire day. Do I pay an unusual amount of attention to the cup which holds my drink? Yes- and in doing so, I’ve extended this thought process to other aspects of my life.

The conversation around this cup sprang up in speaking to a friend about a current relationship and its eminent demise. I had been single for many years, and preferred it that way. I was asked how I could be so comfortable living for so long without a partner. My answer was quite simple: I was more selective than most. As with the coffee cup, I refused to allow anything mediocre in my life, be it a relationship or a cup.

The response that I got was quite interesting: what gave me the right to be so selective? Most everyone settles for something at some point or another. Isn’t it better to have something than nothing at all? From my friend’s perspective, it all sounded a bit egocentric. Perhaps, I said, but if that’s the case, I wish everyone were a bit more so.

I want to immerse myself in an experience. If I’m reading a book, I’m doing so without any distractions- maybe outside on the porch, with the accompaniment of the birds’ calls, maybe in my favorite chair with Sinatra playing faintly in the background. If I’m watching a film, I set aside a certain block of time to pay attention to the message that the filmmaker is trying to convey, similarly setting the atmosphere. When I exercise, I don’t do so half-heartedly; again, I immerse myself. These activities (and even the simple act of drinking coffee) are things I’ve decided are worthy of my time. After all, time is the most valuable commodity on earth. It’s the epitome of transience. There has never existed a person who was more rich in time than any other. It’s a remarkably finite thing. Even as you read this, your supply is diminishing. That being the case, why would I settle for anything mediocre? Why would I read an article that does not enthrall me? Why would I drink from a cup that rather annoys me? And why in the world would I devote my time to a mediocre relationship?

It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.
~Isaac Disraeli

With the acceptance of mediocrity inevitably comes the confession that one’s life is mediocre, and to make that confession is not only sacrilegious, it’s patently false. As Carl Sagan put it: “Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” The fact that you are here is amazing. That you are able to bear witness to a sunset, to a child’s laughter, to great coffee and great conversation with a dear friend is awe-inducing. If you’re unfamiliar with the feeling of awe, you’re not paying attention to the world around you.

The excellent lies before us, if only we cast mediocrity aside. Allow yourself to be a bit more selective in what is worthy of you, and the excellent will make itself known, be it a coffee cup or a relationship.