This excerpt is from the introduction and first chapter of Conversations with a Stranger by Larry Tate
This is a story of a man who grew up not believing in the existence of God. Without giving much thought to God, he just lived his life from day to day. If he were to consider the existence of God, he would need to be presented with absolute proof.
One day he had coffee with a stranger in a coffee shop. This encounter led him down a path of discovery about God’s existence. During the course of several conversations with the stranger, he very well may have found some compelling proofs of God’s existence. What he did not know was that he was about to stumble onto something he was not expecting to find, something that was far beyond anything he could imagine discovering.
“I have a story to tell. I have a question to ask. Please join me as I take you on my journey. There once was a day when I met this stranger…”
The smell of coffee was in the air. Dishes were clattering. People were coming and going. My favorite coffee shop was of the local mom and pop variety. I didn’t like the flash and pizzazz of the fancy chain stores. I was one of those who felt more comfortable with a down-home atmosphere. But times do change. Some time back, even my favorite shop had awakened and smelled the coffee. Now, they, too, were offering those high-end coffees with names I couldn’t pronounce.
On this particular Monday morning, the coffee shop had its usual crowd. There were the loners like me, the early morning business meeting types, the health-conscious moms who wanted to treat their children to bagels rather than doughnuts, the internet junkies with their laptops, and then there were a few unfamiliar visitors.
I could always be found at the same coffee shop, at the same time, every morning. I had become a creature of habit. Every day I got up, got dressed, went to the coffee shop, sat at the same table, drank the same black coffee, ate the same whole wheat bagel, and then went off to work. To call me a man of habit would be an understatement. You could set a clock by my habits. I don’t know if my obsession with doing the same thing day in and day out was due to my personality or due to my training. I had studied math, physics, and engineering in school. Somewhere along the way, I became one of those geeks with six different writing instruments in my shirt pocket. It was all I could do not to carry a slide rule in my pocket. Slide rules had been outdated for years, but I just could not resist the urge to use one.
I wasn’t one to sample all the varieties of coffees offered at the shop. My only venture into fancy coffees was hazelnut coffee. Otherwise, my coffee was plain, and always black. My breakfast was a whole grain bagel with butter and honey. None of that fancy cream cheese for me. I felt more comfortable doing the same thing over and over again than doing something different.
My ritual included sitting at the same table for forty-five minutes, thinking about the long and tedious day ahead of me. My life reminded me of a movie I once saw in which the main character woke up on the same date, day after day after day. Every morning when he went outside, he saw the same people doing exactly the same thing as the day before.
All day long, I thought about numbers and the way things work. I was a fact-based person. I was more at home in a corner by myself than anywhere else. The last thing I wanted was to get involved with another person in idle chitchat. On the other hand, if someone wanted to talk about facts, science, and numbers, I was their guy. Otherwise, I could be found by myself, back in some corner.
Even though there were many familiar faces, I didn’t know any of them. In fact, I don’t think I can remember speaking to any of the other patrons during the entire time I had been visiting the shop. My only communication was an occasional hello to the counter help. The employees knew me and my unchanging pattern. When I walked through the door they would place the same coffee and the same bagel on the counter. In like fashion, I nearly always gave them exact change, down to the penny. You can’t get much more efficient than that.
After settling into my chair, I took a look around the shop. I saw a stranger walk in the door. He went straight to the counter and spoke to someone at the cash register. Then he started walking around the shop. I figured that they must have hired a new employee because he was walking up and down the aisles and around all of the tables, looking at each and every patron and smiling. Perhaps he is a greeter, I thought. I hadn’t ever noticed a greeter before, but that concept seemed to be catching on. I doubted that he would last long though. He smiled at everyone, but never uttered a word. Perhaps he’s a bus boy, I thought. No, he can’t be a bus boy. He isn’t cleaning off a single table.
It wasn’t long until he made his way to my table. He smiled at me and said, “Good morning, friend. How are you this fine and wonderful day?”
Good grief, I thought. He’s one of those happy people. He hadn’t spoken to a single person before he got to my table. Why did he choose to talk to me? Why can’t I just be left alone?
“Fine thank you,” I answered.
“I’m mighty glad to hear that,” he said. “This certainly is a great day to be alive. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I mumbled something barely audible, hoping he would take my hint and move on.
After glancing up to the counter he said, “Well, friend, I believe my order is ready, so I’ve got to run along. It’s been very nice talking to you.”
Oh good, he’s leaving, I thought. I guess he’s not a greeter after all. The strange thing about him was that if he wasn’t hired help, he certainly was being nosy.
After a bit, I finished my coffee and bagel. With one hand, I held my napkin just under the edge of the table. With the other hand, I carefully wiped the crumbs off the table and into the napkin. After neatly folding the napkin, I stuffed it into my empty coffee cup. On the way out the door, I put my cup, knife, and fork in the appropriate basket; threw the napkin in the trash; and placed my tray on top of the trash receptacle. Out the door I went to endure another day of mind-numbing number crunching.
The above excerpt is from the copyrighted book Conversatons with a Stranger by Larry Tate