Stepping Out

The only true aberration in the world is the absence of love.  (James Baldwin)

Jean smooths the paper placemat, places the napkin, knife, fork and spoon here at my stool at the far end of the counter. 


I’m glad you came.  The next time you come, I challenge you to sit over there between two people you don’t know.

It’s my third trip to The Coffee Pot, the tiny breakfast and lunch café next to the movie theatre on Main Street. Last week I came here with my sister. 

Jean smiled and said, 

You came here once and you never came back. I wondered what happened to you.  

Oh, I’ve been thinking of coming, I stammer. Thinking of what a good idea it would be to find a day to come here each week.  

Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.  

Tuesdays, I’ll take Tuesdays.

Today, my first Tuesday. I’ve chosen a familiar spot here at the far end of the counter, this time without my journal.

I hear Jeans’ challenge. 

Next time….

No, the time is now.

I pick up my backpack and walk over to sit on the stool between two people talking to each other.

They don’t look surprised or chagrined and keep on talking.  

I introduce myself and meet Ron and Barb.  

How often to do you come to the Diner?

This is not the Diner. This is the Coffee Pot.

Oh…that’s right. How often do you come to the Coffee Pot?  

Three, four days a week.  


I meet Bruce who is is sitting next to Ron, a beefy guy with a black eye patch and tee shirt from the “Aches and Pains Motorcycle Club.” He too is a regular.  Five days a week.  

Between the Methodists and Congregationalists at the far ends of Main Street, down the hill from the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, a few blocks up the street from the Bible Baptist Church, “The Perfect Church For Those Who Aren’t” is the most popular and poppy church in town. 

No long sermons to fall asleep through. No hymns to tunes to we don’t know or words that have been changed from those we grew up with. Just hot coffee and connection, a community of strangers becoming friends, a warm hug as you leave. And yes, a great breakfast with homemade toast.  

You need to have three things to retire, Bill reminds me, as he scooches down a few seats to join me.

You got to have enough money to get by, good enough health and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  

Six out of seven mornings he’s got that.  I never did ask him what happens on that seventh morning.  Perhaps we all need a day to sleep in.  

So many studies have shown that people who put down their paper and say hi to the stranger next to them on the subway or get off their stool to sit down between strangers at the Diner, I mean The Coffee Pot, are happier.  

Like me, many of us get shy in a place like this where it seems like everyone knows each other and has someone to talk to. We fear that the stranger will resent the interruption and reject us. Instead we find like I did that those strangers are surprisingly receptive, curious and pleasant.  

As we finish up breakfast, Bill invites me to join him next week for his morning radio show at the station across the street.  

It’s true, I’m happier when I talk to strangers. A lot happier than I was sitting alone at the far end of the counter.  Maybe that’s why happiness has tagged along with me all day.

A few days later I show up at the Laconia Community Center for 10:15 pickle-ball.  My sister left me her old racket and another challenge to step out of my comfort zone and learn to play. I don’t know much about Pickle-Ball other than it’s now the most popular new game in the country with fanatic and ecstatic players like my sister who can’t get enough of it.

Today, here on the court, the gift of strangers. Chuck, Cathy, Donna, Mike. Super-friendly and helpful with this newbie (as my sister promised me Pickle-Ball players would be). They show me how to hold the racket, where to stand, teach me to keep score.  

Whap!  Whap!  Whap!  I can see why my sister loves this game – fast, fun and competitive.  

Every week I’m away from work each month has a theme.  This past week, perhaps “Stepping Out.” 

That sounds better than “Getting a Bunch of Chores Done” though there has been that as well.

I hang back at the far end of the court, run forward to Whap the ball over the net.  

Donna calls over to me, 

As you get more comfortable, you could stand closer to the net, right up there next to the kitchen.

Sounds like a familiar invitation!  

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