Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Paradigm shifts.

When I stepped into the Grady coffee shop, there was a line. Three or four people long but still longer than what I was in the mood to manage. Usually I'm a very sound sleeper. But for some reason, I'd tossed and turned a lot the evening before and, as a result, overslept that morning. When I first woke up, I'd made a beeline to my Keurig to start a cup of coffee but with the chaos of kids and walking the dog, I didn't remember it until I was half way to Grady Hospital.


Clinic was already bustling when I got there but hallelujah for kind colleagues like Stacie S. who looked squarely into my sleep-deprived eyes and instinctively knew they were in acute need of a pick-me-up. "Hey Kim, I know you said you forgot your mug of coffee this morning. Why don't you pop down to Henry's to get you a cup?"

I didn't even bother with the obligatory first-pass refusal. She had me at "Hey Kim."

I walked down there so fast that it felt like I'd teleported myself. The two young women behind the coffee counter were hustling hard to manage the customers and seemed to mostly be on top of it all. But still. I'd hoped to meet a quiet mid-morning lull with no one there other than a peaceful Grady elder. No such luck.


I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my palms. Two seconds after that I remembered that this was the kind of gesture one does at home and not so much in public. I quickly dropped them back to my sides. Pressing my lips together, I drew in what I hoped was a subtle sigh to break up and also hide my impatience.

"Well, he said he might be coming but I don't know, boo. . . .say what? See, you asking questions that I can't even help you with. That's a grown man you talking 'bout. I ain't the boss of him."

That's what I heard verbatim from the woman ahead of me in the queue. She was balancing an oversized Samsung Galaxy phone on her shoulder while looking through her equally oversized purse. Her voice wasn't even remotely hushed. It was unapologetically loud enough for anyone in earshot to hear. By now, three more people had filed in behind us and a few others were milling around waiting for their orders. My groggy eyes narrowed at the back of her head. This was one of my pet peeves.

Blah blah blah. She kept on talking as if we weren't there. Zero shame in her game.

"Hell, if I know!" The yacking-phone lady threw her head back and laughed out loud at what was clearly some amusing exchange on that phone call. The curly ringlets of her synthetic hair braids shook rhythmically with every chuckle. She continued to rummage through her gigantic pocketbook as that phone still teetered treacherously next to her chin. Some piece of me wished it would fall to the ground and shatter into a million pieces.

Mean, I know.

"I can't find that paper with all that fancy mess you asked for! You getting a regular cup of coffee, chile." The person on her call obviously protested that suggestion. "Caramel Makey-Latte? What in the hell is that?" She laughed again. Her voice was raspy like a person who'd either smoked for a long time or who'd been screaming at the top of her lungs. The surly piece of me assumed it was the former. Or maybe even both.

Mean, I know.

Out came that gravelly laugh once more and, this time, a few heads turned in her direction. But she didn't seem to care. Like, at all.

I'm amazed that the searing stare I was giving to the back of head never created a full thickness burn. But I sure did try considering how she kept that uncomfortably loud phone conversation going strong well until it was her turn to order. And during her order, too.


"What can I get for you, ma'am?" the barista asked. The yacking phone lady pursed her lips and studied the menu on the wall. The same menu that had been there for the entire time she was gabbing on the phone about what sounded like a whole bunch of nothing.

My masseters bulged from my involuntary teeth gritting. I felt myself slowly veering out of my lane, easing dangerously close to tapping her on the shoulder and suggesting she get off the damn phone before ordering. But then I heard the BHE in my head telling me to calm down and stop worrying about stuff that doesn't need to be worried about. He's much better at managing such things so, thank goodness, I live with his little voice in my head to help me in times like this. That gave me enough pause to recognize that her full decibel chit chat was more annoying than criminal. Not to mention she kind of looked like someone who probably wasn't the best person to mess with.

Um, yeah.

"Now what you said you wanted? A caramel makka lacka?" She was still talking into her phone. While ordering. I tapped my foot softly, hoping she couldn't see the steam rolling from my ears. I fought the urge to snatch her phone mid sentence  and dunk it into a the biggest, hottest, most Venti-est cup of joe that they had. Extra hot, even.

"Do you mean a caramel macchiato?" The barista was still smiling. Far more patient than I would have been circa 1988 at the Foot Locker in the Hawthorne Mall.

"Hey you heard that? Is that what you wanted?" The yacking lady yawned and plopped her giant Coach bag on the counter in front of the cash register. A pack of Newports was poking from the top and also what appeared to be some clothing--including undergarments. It was visible to any and every person in that line. All of it was too much. Especially mixed with her being on the phone at the same time. She looked up at the barista. "Yeah, that sound good. That's what she want."

"What size can I get for you, ma'am?"

Her focus remained on the person she was speaking to on the phone and not the unbelievably pleasant person standing before her. "Now see, chile. You got me up in here taking a damn quiz! They asking me a million questions about size and all that. Caramel makky lakky don't come in just one size." She listened for another reply and laughed again. This time I could actually smell the cigarettes. Fortunately her back was to me because that time I grimaced in real life. Her attention went back to the lady behind the counter. "Just do whatever the big size is."

"Grande? Venti?" The barista held up two cups. And she was still smiling. God love her for being so patient.

"Why is Grande smaller than Venti? Hell if I know."

I wanted to scream. Right then and there, I truly wanted to do just that. For some reason, the look on the barista girl's face seemed to snap the yacking lady into a bit of reality. "I'm just gonna get you the middle size," she said into the phone while making fleeting eye contact with me. I offered back a tight lipped smile, representing my acquired southern hospitality more than anything else. "Hey, let me also get a grande size of the regular coffee, too." The sweet barista girl nodded and punched in that, too.

Finally I was able to order my simple cup of much needed coffee. "Room for cream?" the barista queried me.

"Please. Thanks." I kept my eyes trained directly on the barista, my hands inside of my white coat pockets. Straightening my spine, I forced the sappiest smile I could find to rage against the phone lady and her unruly behavior. I wanted to be the antithesis of her socially unacceptable uninterrupted coffee shop conference call. The barista lady placed the blonde roast on the counter in front of me as I offered her a nod of thanks. "'Preciate you," I added.

"My pleasure!" she responded. Her eyes lifted up to the person behind me. That barista girl was far less worried about that previous customer than I was. That's for sure.

On a scale of one to ten for being annoyed, the only reason I didn't feel a ten when I saw the yacking-phone lady still adding sugar and creamer to her coffee drink on the condiment cart was that she had finally gotten off the damn phone. My chest rose as I drew an exaggerated drag of air; I still felt the urge to internally protest although I was trying not to outwardly show my disapproval of her earlier behavior.

"Pardon my reach," I said while gripping the creamer carafe.

"No problem." She looked at me and smiled. Her face was pretty. Though her features were youngish, I could tell from the fine lines around her eyes that she was closer to my age than the twenty something baristas. She also looked tired, too. Tired like a person who has been living longer and harder than only two decades. Her clothes were also youngish. Junior cut sweats with the word "PINK" written across the bum in blinged out block letters. Regardless of her actual age, I decided that she was old enough to know better. Better than to yap on the phone in public like that. And better than to wear some Victoria's Secret velour sweat pants anywhere, ever.

Catty, I know.

She stirred her drinks slowly and seemed to be off in another world. That place was far more peaceful than the laughing, cackling one she'd just left. I decided that I liked this one better.

Snotty, I know.

But see, I hadn't slept well the night before. And I was tired. Furthermore, that coffee shop was filled with all sorts of people and most of them didn't look like me. But she did. So some piece of tired me was mad at her for being the other black woman in the room and choosing to represent us this way. Even when her far away gaze drifted over to my eyes, I felt myself rebel. Turning my eyes downward and folding into myself like origami to signal to the world that I wasn't with her. That I am not the person who'd continue a conversation on my cell phone while paying for a coffee because it was just downright rude and maybe even something that would feed a single story stereotype of who we both are.

Yes. I was judging her.

"I like your hair," she finally said.

"Thanks," I mumbled. One corner of my mouth went upward as a pseudo-olive branch. And I was conflicted about it since I'd already decided that I wasn't aligned with her nor was I her friend.

Then something happened. Out of the blue, she turned her whole body to face me and said, "I am so, so tired. I ain't slept in more than two straight days." She pulled one of the drinks up to her lips and sipped it carefully. After letting out a quick shudder from the hot liquid touching her mouth, she sighed. "That's good."

I felt my heart defrosting. Even though I really needed to get going back to the clinic and even though I'd made up my mind not to like her, I decided to bite. "Why haven't you slept?"

"Oh, 'cause my baby was in a car accident two days ago. I live in Baltimore and she down here going to college. They called me 'bout my baby girl and said she was gon' be in intensive care. They said she was knocked out cold when they got to her and they took her straight to Grady for emergency surgery in a helicopter. I hung that phone up, got my keys and walked out my door. I drove all night 'til I got here."

"Wow." I could feel the metaphorical icicles crashing to the floor around me. "Is she okay?"

"She got her pelvis shattered. And some organ damage that made them have to operate on her stomach and bowels a leave her with one of them bags 'til she get better. But they finally took the tube out her throat last night and let her eat today. First thing she said was that she wanted me to get her some Starbucks. I sholl was glad when the nurse told me they got all the Starbucks stuff down here in this shop."


"Yeah. It's 'bout to be a hard road. She real young and alive, you know? She a good student and be enjoying herself down here in college, know what I'm saying? And having that bag on her and not being able to walk round yet . . . " Her voice trailed off and her eyes quickly filled with tears. She patted the corners of her eyes with napkins, shook her head and sighed. "I thought my baby was gon' die. I did. I got up here and saw her laying there with all them tubes coming out her body. That ain't nothing I wish on nobody mama." A tear rolled down her cheek.

I placed my free hand onto my chest. "Oh my God. I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, we all we got. She my only. I had her by myself, too. Her daddy ain't never been too involved although I did try to call him to come up here. And since she got out that ICU she don't want me out her sight. Like, I couldn't even come down here without her talking my head off on the phone. But I just do what it take, you know?" I felt my face burning, thinking about her initial reference to a man. That was probably her daughter's father. "I had to get out that room 'cause just one day ago, I thought my baby was gone. And it's hard seeing my beautiful baby like this but it woulda been worse to lose her, you know? So I drove all night. Ain't really slept since."

"Man. She's lucky to have a mama like you." I felt the hot coffee on the palm of my hand, radiating through the cup. It was a welcomed distraction from the heat emanating from my face. I felt so ashamed of my feelings before.

"Yeah, I guess. Her mama was scared. Real, real scared. Shit, she still scared."

And when she said that? I could see that she was on the tippy tip edge of tears again. And since I didn't have any other words to offer, I just sort of stood there in this awkward silence. Finally I impulsively let my next thought slip out of my lips. "Um, do you need a hug?"

The look of surprise on her face made me immediately wish I hadn't asked. I mean, she was from Baltimore for crying out loud. Who asks a person from the place that inspired that television show "The Wire" if they need to hug it out? But then I saw her head nodding. And after that I heard her reply in a teeny-tiny voice.


I sat my coffee on the cart and, before I could overthink it, I wrapped my arms around her tight. Gave her a big, two armed hug. The kind that you give when you really mean it. Eyes closed, palms pressed tightly into the center of the back, heart to heart.

And, in this case, mama to mama.

I tried my best to imagine the pain she must have been feeling. The terror in her heart as she pressed that pedal to the metal, not knowing if her baby would live or die. I tightened my grip on her back at the thought.

I sure did.

And that? That was the lever that opened the flood gates. Her body shook rhythmically in my arms as she released a deep, tired cry. I just stood there and let her. For as long as she needed to cry.

Yeah, man.

It was so tender and transparent. I could feel her mama-bear emotion draining out of her and onto the shoulder of my white coat. And I kid you not, all of this happened right then and right there inside of that busy coffee shop in the downstairs lobby at Grady Memorial Hospital.

When she pulled back from me, her entire face was red and covered with tears and snot. I handed her a stack of napkins off of the coffee station and smiled. "Whew. Oh wow, girl. I'm so sorry," she murmured.

I glanced at my soaking wet shoulder and shrugged. "Looks like you needed that."

"I guess I did, huh?" We both laughed.

"You take care of yourself, okay? And try to get a little rest, too."

"Now that my baby is awake and able to talk to me, I'm hoping I can." She held up the two cups of coffee and looked down at her body. With a chuckle she added, "But not until I get me some clothes that ain't made for a teenager. I came down here so fast I didn't even pack nothing. I been wearing stuff out my daughter's dorm room." A wave of embarrassment washed over my face again.

"I'd say any mama who can fit into clothes out of her daughter's dorm room is winning." That time a few people in earshot laughed, too.

It felt like I'd been gone too long. I needed to go back to the clinic. "Listen. . . I pray your daughter has a full recovery. And that her mom gets some peace of mind."

"I 'preciate you, doctor." I could tell that she meant that. Then she added, "Hey, do you got any kids?"

"Yes, ma'am. I have two sons."

She curled her lips and nodded. "I could tell you was somebody mama." We both smiled at that statement.  "Do you work upstairs in the trauma part of the hospital?"

"No, ma'am. I work in the clinic and on the non-surgery hospital service. I was just down here getting some coffee."

"Well, thank you for being my angel doctor this morning. I'm for real. My heart feel better after meeting you. So I just want to say 'preciate you for taking a minute to care about somebody. People be going through it up in here. You don't never know what they dealing with."

Something about that made me immediately want to cry. I felt the tears coalescing in my eyes and making them sting. Twisting my mouth to break up the emotion, I nodded in agreement.

Those parting words played on a loop recorder in my head for the rest of the day. I'm not sure I ever even took a single sip of that coffee that I'd bought that morning. That paradigm shift was all the stimulant I needed. It sure was.

Sometimes we start off wrong. In our attitudes, our thinking, our perceptions. Especially when it comes to people. But everyday I am reminded that we are always more alike than we are different. I'm thankful for life's little autocorrections.


Happy Hump Day.


  1. You never know what's behind someone's eyes/smile, there is most times an unspoken journey. Just peel back the onion...Roompup

  2. A heart warming post indeed, thanks for sharing and greetings!

  3. I wish autocorrect worked for all of us. Thank you so much for sharing these moments. They usually make my eyes a little leaky and my heart warm.

  4. Oh, man. I always feel so small when God smacks me upside the head like that. I would have been right there with you having the exact same thoughts and feeling the exact same way you did when the tide turned. What a good reminder for all of us.


  5. Tears flowing after reading this...thank you. I have a saying posted near my computer, "Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle." This brings it home. Beautifully told story!

  6. Dr. Kimberly, you got me crying before I even finished my cuppa. Your title made me know I was going to get whacked up side the head, but this was a two-by-four. Thank you.

  7. This was amazing and you are amazing for having the loving open heart that you do. I was growling right along with you there. And then!! I hope her daughter's recovery is smooth and fast. I hope I can keep your lesson in my own heart. Thanks.

  8. I'll try to remember this when someone cuts me off in traffic. Maybe they are rushing to be with their baby at Grady. ;-)

  9. Oh. *Tears* Thank you thank you for this huge reminder. Whole entire heart to you and to this mom and daughter!! ❤❤❤❤❤

  10. WOW.You always come correct with a good word. So thought provoking & relatablenjoy as usual. You are my absolute favorite Blogger !I miss your writing but I know you are such a busy Lady wearing so many hats. I am grateful for this archive of your beautiful words that I can always revisit & share.

  11. You made me cry, in a good way. I do that too, the judging and then it bites me in the ass. We never know, do we?

  12. I pray that I will have the grace to really listen like you did and respond with the kindness you showed. why is it that I can get all judge-y in my head, when I KNOW every one is fighting a battle. Perhaps I needed a reminder. Thanks.

  13. You gave each other a powerful gift. Thanks for sharing this tender story.

  14. Thanks for sharing the gift of your warm heart, with that mama and with us. Such a great reminder of everyone's humanity. Love you, Kim. x0x0 N2

  15. This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you, soror.

  16. This made me cry. Just beautiful. I love thinking about how little things line up. Like how you forgetting your coffee places you in in this womans life at the right moment.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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