I didn't particularly love this coffee shop; they roasted their own coffee in-house, and as romantic as that sounds, I could never get a strong enough brew, whether I ordered a latte or a drip or even straight espresso - it always tasted a bit blonde to me. But coffee of any kind is almost always better that no coffee, so there I was.
The young man minding the shop took my order, friendly enough, and disappeared behind the counter to make it. The equipment lining the counter was huge and hid all but the top of his head from view, so what I knew of the process were the sounds - first the grumbling of the grinder, the gentle hum of the espresso machine, and finally the high-pitched whine of the steamer. The smell of espresso drifted to me, promising that caffeination was soon to come.
The machines ceased, I heard the soft "fwp" as he pulled a styrofoam cup off of the stack, and then silence.
He walked around into my line of sight, and I stepped forward, hand outstretched,, expecting to be handed my latte. But he carried the cup in one hand and the lid in another, and beckoned me over.
"I just have to show you this," he told me excitedly, his face beaming. "I've been practicing and practicing forever, trying to figure this out, and look! I finally got it to work!"
|This isn't "the leaf". I wish I'd thought to take a picture. :(|
I looked, and there in the foam was a delicate leaf, slightly lopsided only in the way that true leaves usually are. I smiled, almost involuntarily; his joy was contagious. And in one split second - it was no longer than that - I fully realized the magic of this moment. The fact that he'd spent days trying to create a leaf in a cup of coffee that was always, always covered up by a foam lid and unappreciated. For no other purpose than to create beauty. That the very moment when he succeeded, it was my cup that happened to be there. And that he'd chosen to share his joy with me, a total stranger.
He made a move to bring the lid to the cup, and I stopped him.
"Don't," I said. "It's beautiful. I'm going to enjoy it."
I picked up my cup, he smiled, and I walked away, sipping cautiously at the edge, letting the beauty last as long as it could. Letting the caffeine and sugar nourish my body, and a tiny leaf nourish my soul.
I've thought about this moment since then. Thought about a young man bent over a cup, foamed milk in his left hand, attempting over and over again to create something wondrous. And failing. And persisting, until that one perfect moment came along. I thought of his expectation, that I would immediately clamp a cover over his magic and forget it. I wonder how many times I had the opportunity to make something wondrous; how many times I made the attempt, and when it didn't come together as planned, abandoned it completely. Or - and this is the thought that breaks my heart - how many times did I come thisclose to succeeding, and stopped when I let myself think that nobody would appreciate the moment if and when it happened?