Thursday, December 6, 2007

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart…"

- Johnny Mathis

Not long ago I walked into one of my favorite Starbucks, placed my order and then stepped aside to wait for the barista to finish preparing my drink.  My eyes wandered through the store…the cute new mugs designed to compliment autumn's Pumpkin Spice Latte were now on the clearance table along with some chocoate covered cranberries.  Hmmm…the bulletin board advertised viola lessons, a new CD by a local artist and an exhibit by a young photographer.  Then I saw it and laughed out loud.  Pasted to the back of the espresso machine was a sign. 

Only 8 more days until red cups

I was charmed by the spread of Christmas joy that flowed through me.  I love the red "holiday" to-go cups.  Was it really that time of year…already?!?!  Christmas music flowing through the sound system, new merchandise on corporate-ly designed display tables, drinks with names like Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread Latte, and Holiday blend dancing on the blackboard overhead.  I have to admit there was something sweet about it all (and not just the iced snowflake cookies in the pastry case) that had me at "ho, ho, ho".

I decided right that moment, I was NOT going to beat myself up for enjoying the rush of warmth I was feeling.  So, I sat down to examine it.  Why was it that I was a bit happier at the mere thought of Starbucks red cups.  I pulled out the journal I never leave home without…yes, yes, yes…along with my traveling office of a Bible, Science and Health, and my Daytimer (I tried a Palm Pilot, but I like paper)…but I digress. 

So, there I was my chin in my hand, my pen hovering above the blank page, when I noticed the color of the walls.  Bear with me here.  They are a warm mustard-y color and suddenly I remembered how long it had taken me to get used to them a few years back when this particular Starbucks had been scheduled for a redecorating overhaul.  New paint, new tables and chairs, new big comfy armchairs, new artwork.  I wasn't happy.  I liked the old tables with chessboards painted on the top.  I liked that some of the wooden cafe chairs matched the deep cherry color of the darks squares and others matched the honey pine of the lighter squares.  I had a perfect table in the corner where I would study, pray and see patients throughout the day…all day. 

Long after the paint had dried, I was still a bit heartbroken.  I wanted it all back the way it was.  One evening, while waiting for an appointment to arrive I was fuming and fussing about the new colors, tables and chairs.   In an effort to silence my incessant, however good-natured, whining, one of the managers suggested that I might like to rearrange the furniture while she and her staff tried to assemble the Christmas displays --  elaborate kits that "corporate" had sent to the store along with meticulous directions about how to put them together and use for displaying arrange the merchandise…right down to how to draw the special drinks on the blackboard in red and green chalk. 

So, I did.  Big stuffed comfy chairs in one corner, the "community table" in the middle of the room, small round tables scattered along the walls in intimate groupings.   By the time we were finished I was exhausted…and happy.  My appointment arrived late and as we sat down at one of my new table groupings, I looked around and realized that it really did look like Christmas within, and without.  I was feeling homey, festive, and warm.  All that was needed was for me to invest and engage in the process and I was sold on the product.

As we sat there talking, I heard a squeal go up from behind the front counter.  "The red cups have arrived!", followed in a voice that reminded me of a child opening her first present on Christmas morning.  Within ten minutes everyone there (the staff, my friend, and I) had their hands fondly cupped around a red, white and green paper cup filled with something hot.  "Now Christmas can come" the manager said with a sigh. We looked around and the room was sparkling with little white lights that framed the plate glass windows where Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Seasons Greetings had been written in reverse with white paint.  Carols were practically oozing goodwill through the speakers near the ceiling.  Candy canes, glittery displays, and holiday merchandise were carefully scattered on tables and shelves throughout the store.  My friends at Starbucks had spent their entire evening preparing their workplace for receiving their neighbors for the rest of the season.  Tonight, this was not a workplace, it was their home…away from home. 

As we sat around finishing our lattes and hot chocolates I discovered that for a couple of these young people, this really was the place where they would spend most of their time…including Christmas Day…over the next weeks.  I learned that one lived alone and really didn't have any family nearby, another had experienced the devastating loss of a sibling recently, and yet another felt bereft and hopeless following a divorce that left him shattered and feeling unworthy of love. And then there was me, none of them could have known how much their friendship and comraderie meant to me that year.

Now, I know that there are many people who eschew Starbucks for the megacorporation it represents...but this isn't about Starbucks, it's about the people who gather there...managers, baristas, associates and customers.   But again, I digress. Back to my story...

Since this Starbucks already served as my office, I decided right then, as they were ready to close up for the night,  to spend as much time there as I could without becoming a nuisance.  I decided that I would encourage all my friends to celebrate the holidays with me
there.  Over the next weeks I met with patients, played games (Apple to Apples was our favorite that Christmas), met with my knitting group and book club, spent endless hours laughing with friends, and drawing with my children…all from the cozy back  corner where a table or two became the center of my "home".  We sang along with the piped in Christmas music and drank endless cups of hot chocolate.  And did I say that we laughed...we laughted so hard some afternoons that a customer at the next table called out to the person at the counter, "I'll have whatever it is that they're having!"  Jill and I were having...Christmas.  We were sharing our love for the Christ, the presence of God's love...right there and it made us happy to be alive and grateful to have eachother as friends. 

I will never forget that Christmas.  I learned that you can
take Christmas to those who may not have a traditional Norman Rockwell scenario waiting for them at the end of a workday.  I learned that Christmas is laughter, caroling, learning new things about the people you gather with, warmth, compassion and yes, red cups.  

I love those red cups…it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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