Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Coffeeneruing Challenge 6: Life, death and coffee

I'm a member of the Jewish Burial Society here in Portland. That means that when someone in the Jewish community dies and has stipulated that they want a ritually correct Jewish burial, there are volunteers who take turns preparing the deceased for burial, and afterwards other volunteers take turns sitting with the deceased (whose body is prepared and sealed in the coffin) in the waiting room. I serve as a Shomrah, or Guardian. I take a shift (usually 60 to 90 minutes) and sit with the coffin while I read psalms or sit in silent meditation, until the body is taken away for burial in a Jewish cemetery.

I am glad to do this mitzvah, or commandment, even though it's the one thing that the person can never thank me for, the ultimate in paying it forward. I am glad to help bring some comfort to the family, who know that their loved one will remain attended and cared for, usually by complete strangers, right up until the burial.  It also brings things back into a really grounded perspective whenever I'm in danger of stressing too much over the small stuff. Because, as nice as this life can be, we're all gonna die someday. I figure I may as well keep it in mind periodically.

I always need a little time afterwards, to collect myself and return to density. Usually this means taking a scenic bike ride around the neighborhood near the funeral home, until I feel calm and ready to return to mundane daily life again. After an hour of riding, I'm also usually hungry. So after my shift and my head-clearing, I rode up the street to Cup & Saucer Cafe.

I grabbed the latest issue of Willamette Week, just out today, and a menu and sat down in a booth. And then, I laughed out loud.
 It was perfect, really. The cover story was a feature about a couple of people in Portland who specialize in helping folks process death and dying, either as the one who will die or as the one who is left behind.

(Actually, not a bad set of articles. Check 'em out online.)
Cup & Saucer was around when I moved into the neighborhood over twenty years ago.
Even back then, breakfasts weren't exactly cheap, so as a young starving music teacher I usually opted for coffee and some baked treat if I dared take myself out for breakfast.

Now I'm a grownup. And breakfast is still not cheap. But it's good. Today I had the black bean and cheese omelette, with home fries and a scone.
The place has had some remodeling done, but the booths and chairs are pretty much the same as they were back when I was a young punk in torn jeans and a semi-mullet.
(Hey, it was 1989. Gimme a break.)

Another thing that has not changed are the scones. You can order one with your breakfast, or a basket of three scones. Or both. I got the basket to go so I could enjoy them tomorrow at home.
They are perfect warmed with butter and jam.  Do not take these home and put margarine on them. Please.                                                                                           
Had a nice ride home, punctuated by errands along the way that were designed to help me get more squarely back to density, to my ordinary life. When you spend time with a corpse, it stays with you a little while. Ultimately, I went home and felt much better after a nap.
And coffee and scones. They make life a little nicer.

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