Picturing an ideal

As the twenty-first century continues to unfold, crisis after crisis will rock our lives. We’ll experience deaths of money, thefts of assets, energy shortfalls, supply chain breaks, and a host of other emergencies that seem to pile up but never quite come back to “normal”.

Still, life goes on. My wife loves to barrage me with the parental question “where are the jobs going to be for our children?”, or “where will be a good place for them to live?”

In those questions is the point: life does go on, even though it’s changed from what it had been.

On the weekend, therefore, I was wool-gathering for a bit about an ideal of mine. It may never come to pass, of course. But still, one must have a dream.

It’s a coffee shop — or better said, a coffee house. A warm, friendly, inviting neighbourhood place.

Is coffee served? Absolutely. (Tea too for the tea drinkers.) Green beans are roasted on the premises and ground there. Yes, it’s more work, but part of this little dream is that this is a place where people can find work, so “doing it yourself” not only becomes a way to control quality, but to make useful work to be done.

There are a few types of baked goods there, but not too many. You can get a panino if you’re peckish. All the baking happens in the kitchen, too, and the sandwiches are made up on demand. (When I lived in Vancouver I used to spend many a happy lunch hour at Café Kokapelli in my neighbourhood, where they made lovely turkey-cranberry panini with a salad, a lemon loaf slice, and a vanilla latté on the premises.)

As with that café, and many other small independent ones I’ve been in over the years, there’ll be a selection of flavours, but not every flavour under the sun. What the local market wants — not what some corporate headquarters says, nor what tourists demand — will rule.

It’ll be European in flavour, which means that the person who comes in in the morning, orders an espresso (single shot) and spends half the day reading the paper is welcome. Lots of little tables. Some more comfortable couch-style leather chairs here and there.

There’ll be books alongside taking the daily papers for the patrons. The bookshelf is also a trading station: bring a book, take a book. (There are pubs in England that now have bookshelves and act as the replacement for a closed public library. One hopes it doesn’t come to that, but all communities need a place to get reading material.)

One corner can easily be configured for community meetings. I’d hope there’d be a monthly philosopher’s café run there, and that small community groups would choose the place to gather in.

Payment may well be in kind as well as in cash (and in my ideal community there’d be a local currency, which this coffee house would accept). Supplies must be bought and work done: why not allow trades to take place?

My little ideal is a place where most people choose to come periodically. It’ll be a gathering place, a meeting place — a place to come for the news, and to meet friends.

Even if lit by candles, it will be a light in the darkness. Even when all seems to be falling apart around the community, it will be a point of civilisation.

Hopefully, it would be a treasure.

Now, I tell you this not because I’m rushing out to open the place (although I do toy with the idea) but because there’s no reason this couldn’t exist now.

All it takes is the desire to measure “success” in some way beyond money and size.

As long as you can keep it supplied … keep it clean … keep it running without killing yourself (financially or in terms of health) … couldn’t that be enough?

“Enough” is a concept we have trouble with. But it’s a key concept for the troubled twenty-first century.

Happiness will be found in striving for “just enough” as opposed to “more, more, more”.

Growth becomes internal, not external. Something to think about.

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