Coffee in the End Times

(Illustration by Megan Tatem)

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I want to sound off on something that has only just occurred to me. It involves waking up and smelling the coffee, but literally this time.

When I was a kid–not a kid-kid, mind you, but old enough–the sight of coffee beans and the aroma of brewing caffeine juice inspired something akin to bliss. Maybe it was all those Folgers and Maxwell House commercials, showing all the maddeningly content and happy adults downing their first cup of coffee for the day. Little did I know that age would transmogrify this beverage into an absolute necessity that I would chug down every consecutive day of college and work after that. Even when I experienced the diminishing returns and the rare horrors of the times when another cup actually makes you more tired. As with so many things in childhood, coffee was stripped of its decadence and delectable enjoyment by the travails of wage slavery and assembly line living so common to Americans. You don’t go to the movies or sit down in front of the computer because you’re dying to see X or play Y more often than you’re just trying to evacuate this mortal plane for a while.

Drudgery, I would more aptly put it. Painful, fatiguing drudgery.

Why do I pen this paean to coffee? This ode to the joy of downing a cup of joe? See the above warning concerning pedantry before continuing.

For the first time since I left employment in June of this year, I found myself looking down at the subtly chocolate coffee beans I’d just poured into the grinder with something akin to that love I experienced as a kid. That promise of a contented, joyful morning. I did not have one, mind you. “Akin to” is the operative part of the phrase here. But the experience made me remind myself of all that I had just kind of lost in the intervening years leading up to this one. Made me really bring into a frame of reference all those years of chronic stress and chronic illness. And therein lay another discovery.

Not only was able to experience the morning ritual of a cup of coffee in the way that it used to make me feel, but I was able to consider all that stress and sickness from a point of view that did not make me hate myself or the world for it. I was able to look at it and, in a way, say to myself that I survived. I’m still here. And without the nascent promise that a time would immediately arrive to dispel this idea, as I’ve arrived at this state of being before and been quickly disabused of it by a new crisis.

In short, this morning helped me to understand that I was not going to process through many “bad years” in a few “good months”. That it would take time, so stop worrying over it and getting upset about it. The stop at the next station is still coming, you’re just still on the tracks for the foreseeable future.

But this comes at a cost, one that I may no longer bear, but that others still do in my stead. In all our steads. A painfully few people who are not provided for by trust funds and other means of generational wealth get to experience this thing I’m experiencing, this shedding of years. And it sickens and saddens me. My small bump of happiness that maybe I’ll be alright is subject to the fact that many more others will never get the opportunity to reset and restart, to look forward to tomorrow as anything but another in a long line of struggles. They will grow old, but they will not retire. They will work until their bodies or minds fail them and are cast off into the gutter, replaced by the next rank of obedient workers. I hope this is not our future. It will be a short one if so, ended before its time by the weakening supports beneath a colossal monument to avarice. But in this moment and time, projected forward without alteration, that’s what awaits us. So we better start acting like it.

Join the Democratic Socialists of America. Vote Sanders in the 2020 primary and general. Protest, march, knock on doors, make phone calls, scream, tweet, post, or punch a Nazi. Do whatever you can. Fight for someone you don’t know or someone you do. We’re all in this together, and it’s my hope that when all is said and done, we’ll be enjoying a nice cup of coffee together.

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