Have you ever sat at a coffee shop, your work in front of you, taking that needed pause and looked around the room? As you scanned that room, allowed your eyes to dance over the cast of characters assembled, did you ever wonder what they were talking about? Were they celebrating something or coping with a tragedy? Or were they just allowing themselves to complain, no matter how futile, in an effort to let it out?
As a young writer I often found myself in coffee shops, diners, public parks and even bars where I would spend my time observing others, penning stories about what I thought they were talking about. Ultimately I never knew exactly what they were talking about.
Jennifer Santoro, Connection 82, is one of the amazing hearts, minds and souls I get to share coffee shop tables with. If you saw us talking, watched the ebb and flow of the tides of our conversation, you might wonder what we were talking about. The better question would be; what aren't we talking about?
There is something so loving about Jennifer Santoro. Her hugs are genuine expressions of joy and care, not some formal embrace to fit the occasion. One of the things we both love to explore and help others with is authenticity, living as their authentic selves. Spend any time at all with Jennifer and ir becomes very clear that she is her authentic self. There is no other version of her that comes out after you have left, when she is in her car or at night when no one is looking. Jennifer is not tall and yet she is a giant, a vibrant, dynamic modern shaman travelling her road while guiding others on theirs.
We take a moment to catch up, to talk about the ups and downs we have had. I tell her about some of the struggles I have been dealing with recently. She tells me about the vegetarian Thanksgiving she had with her father, about poor man's shrimp cocktail and this joyous moment where they both embraced a change and made new traditions. I joke with her about the transitive property that makes me a vegetarian, cows eat grass and I eat cows. We both smile and laugh. We both take a moment to let our hearts connect over the painful things as well. All of these moments are us in total, not just pieces to be taken as though we were sentient buffets.
We are people who love and care for one another, as total beings.
At this table, on this afternoon, over a chai and an Ethiopian pour over, we are two unique souls sharing a few moments, a few stories, our smiles and our cries. We are each different people, each doing their own thing, and yet it never stops us from talking, from sharing, from connecting. Both of us love the other for the person they are, not for how similar they are to us. We have different diets, different spiritual views, different voices and different lives, but ultimately we, as human beings, are all in the same boat.
Jennifer loves difference, embraces diversity and sees it for all of the wondrous color and spice it adds to the world. She talks about how we all need to embrace our differences more, to accept people for being who they are. I talk about how I believe we need to ask what is more important, being right or the love we have for another. We talk about self-sacrifice and respect in relationships, about drawing boundaries, about the courage to be who we truly are.
Both Jennifer and I have a passion for discovering the authentic self, the true voice and heart of who we are as people. I developed my passion as a result of living so many compromises to the being I am, feeling trapped in that prison of my own making. As Jennifer and I talk I am reminded of how far I have come, of how my path has emerged before me, not as a defined strategy, but as a journey to the person I was always meant to be and the man I now choose to be. I can see her smile get bigger and bigger as we talk. Jennifer loves to see authenticity, the true self come through, and in the time since we last met more has come from me.
I tell her of my plans for the new year, of a new endeavor that she is actually engaged in as well. As I have told others, I tell her, I have not met with as much welcome as I had hoped. I have been seen as a potential competitor, not a member of a community. Jennifer smiles her wondrous grin, a grin that, to me, exemplifies the joy and laughter I feel God has at His creations from time to time.
She smiles her smile, that genuine image of joy and love, then sincerely welcomes me to that community. Jennifer is excited with the new endeavor, we may even do some work together. We are both believers in abundance, that there is more than enough in this world for all of us to win and that we are all unique creatures who should be loved and appreciated for who we are authentically, not some construct.
I learn so much from Jennifer, from just being across the table from her. She reminds me to stay the course, to be the true Matt, the one I and so many others have come to love.
Our time comes to an end, as all things do, but not with sadness. Jennifer and I have forged a friendship, a true relationship based in our authentic selves. We know we will see each other again. We look forward to it, to another hug, another coffee and another moment of joy. As we walk to our cars we talk about the future, about walking our paths. Jennifer tells me that all that has come to be for me has been a result of walking my path with faith and being true to who I am.
I love my friend Jennifer for who she is, for her journey and her smile, for her hugs and that energy she brings to every room.
In her I see a reflection of my authentic self and rejoice.