When I was in grad school and had a class called “Spirituality and Family Therapy,” my mind was blown. So many good books, so many great thinkers and powerful conversations. One of the ideas I was introduced to was “soul of place.”
I think I had always known about it and felt it, but this was the first time having words put to the idea.
The Soul. Of place.
I knew this when I said goodbye to my Granny’s farm. It was even more real the first time I returned years later, to walk around and see the shadows of the stories of the past. The day I locked the door to my Great Aunt’s house, the one she lived in my entire life, where so much laughter and games of Go Fish echoed in the air, just before signing the papers to sell it to a new family…..I felt the soul of place in every fiber of my being. Each and every time I set foot at Blackberry Flats, I breathe a little easier. The air is richer and it fills my soul. The pasture where I learned to ride and the little building where I curled up on top of the hay with my cats and a book are all still there. The tree that I sat under while still in college has spread its branches just as our family tree has.
Memories. Light. Love. All the stories.
This has happened one other time for me. It actually happened the first time I walked through the doors.
About five and a half years ago, I walked into a coffee shop that I had heard about long before it had become a reality. It was a non-profit venture by a group of churches in the Presbytery—churches and church people who realized that not everyone feels safe or comfortable in a church building. They were looking for a different way to “do church,” to be a community.
And they found it.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the lightbulb etched into the cement floor.
And that was the second thing I noticed. How the room glowed. How it was lit up with more than just the energy from the bulbs overhead. It was bright with a beautiful spirit. A calming spirit of peace.
And my soul sighed. Home.
My family and I have spent countless hours in that little coffee shop in Kathleen situated alongside the GW Boutique, Stevi B’s, and the movie theater. For coffee, for conversations, for book groups, for art classes. It’s where I learned to knit and to pray out loud. It’s where people see the best in others and listen with their whole hearts. It’s the place I last sat with my dear sisterfriend before she left this world, where we shared our hearts and stories over soup and salad. It’s where I learned to love pimento cheese and was actually captured on film sharing how good it was, “It’s toasted!” This little coffee shop saw me transition from lattes to black coffee, and my friends the baristas made the very best of both. This coffee shop is where I sat for hours, set up to sell Beads for Life just a week after my Daddy passed. It was a sanctuary, and it held my heart gently. In those hours, in that light, I made my first tiny steps toward healing. Something I’m still working on.
Grief is an odd duck, isn’t it? It’s not like this information is new to me. I know that, and each and every time I’m thrown back on the wheel, I realize it anew. This whole experience, since we got the word at the end of November that our precious coffee shop was hurting and might have to close, I’ve felt the sting of a terminal diagnosis all over again. The hope that maybe, just maybe, something or someone can change all of this, the ups and downs and ups and downs and finally, the overwhelming realization, that no, there really is nothing more that can be done…..
yeah, I’ve done this a few times already.
And while it’s a place—yes, just a few square feet that we are losing, not a person—I still grieve. I grieve for the soul of Bare Bulb Coffee. I grieve because my littles have begged to sell lemonade or cupcakes or pictures they make to save the coffee shop they love. I grieve because my oldest has found peace and comfort within the shop walls on more than one occasion when her world was falling apart. Her love of playing music has been reignited sitting there on Sunday afternoons, or out on the patio in nice weather, just strumming and talking and doing life. I grieve for all of the experiences my children will not have because the doors are closing. It was our safe place, a place where we all felt “home,” and that’s not something that is easily found just anywhere.
Next Monday night the door will be locked for the last time, the last cup of coffee poured, the last smile shared as change is given, the last story told over the tables, the last hand held sitting on the couch in the corner. The last backpack to fight hunger will have been packed, and the last book purchased for the literacy program that is a part of the mission of Bare Bulb Coffee. These things might continue elsewhere, but it will not be the same.
I’m not sure if I will be there when the door is locked for the last time. I’ve thought about it. I have a week to decide. I’m not sure if I can handle being present for one more passing. It is precious and hard and beautiful and brutal and all of these things, and I treasure those moments in my heart. But I know that the hardest moment will be when the Open sign is unplugged, and the lights are turned out.
That is when our work will truly begin. For those of us who have loved her, who have found solace in her soul and light, we will have to become the light. To welcome all as she did. To offer a cup of water to the thirsty, just as she did. To sit with those who cry, to celebrate with those who are joyful. It will be up to us to light up the darkness and to show others the hope in the brokenness. It is important for us to continue to do all of these things…..together…..or she will have been here in vain.
Tonight I’m thankful for the dreamers, for the ones who took a spark and created a bright light for our community, for the world. It was so much more than a coffeeshop, so much more than its tagline—“hot coffee, cool mission.” It’s where I grew up, where I asked hard questions and wrestled with them with folks who thought differently and who challenged me to do so as well. It’s where I said so many hellos and a few heartbreaking goodbyes, this place where strangers became friends, and friends became family. I am thankful for all of them, and my life is richer for this place, for her soul, and for the community she leaves behind.
Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, and all of your beautiful people. Thank you for the ones we knew and loved and for the ones who taught us what being different was like. Thank you for the books and the stories and the hugs and the tangled knots and the hands that helped each other with knitting and painting and life. Thank you for being open to all of us, no matter what we looked like or what stories we carried in our hearts.
Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, for the Light.
My last painting at Bare Bulb Coffee, and her task for all of us she leaves behind. (The class was taught by Terri Siegel, a talented artist friend–one of many gifts the Bulb has given me.)