Bicycles surge down the road like flocks of migrating birds. They collect at intersections as if hovering above crowded electrical lines and they surge forward when the light changes. Wrapped in colorful scarves and wool hats, Danes make journeys around their capital city on two wheels, with fewer cars than you’d initially imagine for a city of this size. I'm on foot, soaking it up at pedestrian speed. Once I step off the paved thoroughfare and onto the cobblestoned section of Copenhagen, I start look for a place to alight. I'm on an overnight layover before the start of a big media project in Europe, heading out on an early flight in the morning. This afternoon I have a few precious hours to myself and I’m out exploring.
The great social lubricant in many European cities is not alcohol; it’s coffee. Copenhagen upholds the tradition like a champ. Caffeine temples of diverse proclivity speckle the city, and equally diverse micro cultures populate their equivalently motley interiors. Despite the forty degree chill, many people have spilled out onto tables set up along sidewalks, leisurely sipping steaming drinks while wearing gloves and coats.
At the triangular apex of a centuries old inner-city corner, I find a lovely coffee shop populated by twenty-something baristas. They all speak English at the counter, simultaneously disappointing me by making me feel like I'm an American in a global Disneyland, while secretly delighting me just a little because I'm tired from travel and I can easily manage to get a bite and a good cappuccino. I perch on a wooden stool looking out through huge windows, watching street life, immensely content.
Then it occurs to me. At this very moment, something familiar—and similar— is probably happening a couple of miles from my home, thousands of miles from where I’m sitting. There's a ubiquitous Starbucks in my town, the homogenized coffee overlord of America and beyond, very close to where I live. Inside a young guy named Russell pulls shots of espresso, and even though he’s just one of thousands working for the mega-coffee chain, he does it pretty well.
On the occasion when I’ve stopped in for a cup, we always exchange pleasantries. It’s taken a while since I’m not exactly a regular, but over time we’ve gotten to know each other enough to say hello. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue about his life, nor he about mine. We always chitchat and occasionally remark about something happening in the world that day. Russell always takes good care of me at the counter, and in the way that good and pleasant service anywhere can make an experience a positive one, I appreciate. But even as I observe that he treats me and all of his other coffee addicts well, it's not like he's my majordomo. He’s good at what he does, but I’m confident that he has aspirations elsewhere beyond fragrant espresso vapor, pots of steamed milk, and jittery urbanites jonesing for joe.
What occurs to me I say sit on my stool in Copenhagen is that Russell is probably at work thousands of miles away mixing lattes and frappucinos. In contrast, my life has sent me pinballing on an overseas adventure, and the result is an energizingly intense self-awareness. It’s as if the entire cosmos begins and ends in a pool of light focused on my cool wooden stool in Copenhagen surrounded by energetic millennials. But reality is different. Everyone else’s life is just as saturated today as mine.
Life continues elsewhere, even if you have no direct exposure to its instantaneous rhythms or realities. In fact, before I got to Copenhagen, the startlingly beautiful woman behind the counter here was living her life, too. This is inevitable: some of her days were ordinary, some were not. That I observe her generational lineage to be from somewhere more tropical than Denmark amplifies the thought.
Nobody knows all of the millions and billions of stories happening continuously, distributed all over the earth, the solar system, the galaxy. Nobody knows precisely how we all got to this moment together. Each of us only lives in our unique present, aware of the sights and sounds and sensations we’re experiencing at the moment, wherever we’re perched. But the reality is that people still pull shots of coffee back where you come from, even if you’re not there. They’re steaming milk for the morning crush at rush hour, or picking up a coffee at the counter for the morning drive. Things are happening simultaneously, small and large all the time, for everyone. The moment you remember that simple thought is the moment you notice the details happening right in front of you, wherever you happen to be.