This café drew me here out of curiosity. I wouldn’t want to write if I had to be here, so this is my chance just to come here for the café. I’ve been here before when I wasn’t thinking about writing or sitting. A sign hanging near a wall sized photo of a hot air balloon pointed to the coffee shop, along with a place called “Radiology.” The hot air balloon is meant to camouflage what the building really is. When I found the café, it had no chairs. People here don’t want to get coffee and sit and linger; they want to get it and take it back up to the chairs next to small people who look like their own childhood pictures and have nicknames only they use. At Children’s Hospital the café is just for coffee to go.
But I did want to sit and linger, and I was even hungry for more than coffee, so I came to the cafe-teria, the place where they make jello to send upstairs. There aren’t many children here, but there are grown ups in scrubs decorated with kittens and hearts. No one seems to think that rainbow colored head coverings are out of place here. Someone I don’t see throws around God’s name like a menu item, and it seems really wrong to do so in a place like this. Of all places, God’s name shouldn’t be blurted out like stepping on a ketchup packet. It should be used with care and leaned on and injected into everything. A table full of colored scrub-wearers talks about car trouble, and the youngest diagnoses an alternator problem. The people here are used to listing symptoms and diagnosing sickness. Most of them.
A young couple wanders in through the tables of scrubs, carrying a small blond boy, and the mom is obviously carrying another baby inside. They put chicken nuggets and a big wedge of white cake in front of their toddler at the table beside me; it’s okay to give your toddler cake when you need to make life’s hard things a little easier. From out of his camouflage diaper bag they give him a bright green sippy cup, the color of a strong growing sprout that’s going to burst out with life. Maybe he’s not such a strong sprout. He sits on the table, and they let him. Sometimes sitting on the table in a café really doesn’t seem to matter. I wonder why they’re here and if they thought they would ever be here. No one wants to have to come to this café or get their coffee to go. We want to sit and linger.
The table of scrubs can’t resist talking to the blond table sitter. A much older boy takes a seat behind them, and I wonder if he has to wear an armband or if someone he loves wears one. A smiling scrub-wearer walks by the new boy’s table and asks the boy how he’s feeling. He must have the arm band. Kids who come to this café are different than others, but they’re the same too. He has French fries like any other boy in a baseball hat with glasses. That’s why the Daddy at the table next door is growling and laughing and tickling and making the little boy’s voice sound like a washer on agitate.
I’m glad they sell more than coffee here. I have mac n’cheese, and so does the lady on the other side of me, up against the wall. She’s checking her phone and studying her mac n’cheese. I’ve often heard it called “comfort food,” and I hope she’s finding comfort in there, because she looks tired. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that God knows our pain and cares. I hope she’s reading that in a text.
No one wants to come to this café. When people get married or talk about their future or look for a pink stripe on a pregnancy test, no one wants to come here. But the café is quite full now, with people who had to come or people who would come for people who need to. The cashier comes to the table of the boy with ball cap and gives him bag of candy that’s tied with a ribbon, and he gets up and hugs her. Is it a bag of camouflage or comfort? Maybe it’s both.
Alongside the wall, behind the lady reading texts and studying mac n’cheese, there’s a row of trash cans that all say “Thank You” and face the room of people. The promise that “those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25b) is comforting, and everyone here probably needs comfort every now and then. No wonder they make mac n’cheese.
The blond toddler family is finished; the group with car trouble is finished; the boy in the ball cap is finished; the lady reading texts is finished. They all put their trash where it says, “Thank you,” and they leave. New people take their places and study their lunches. I hope they have mac n’ cheese.
- Cafe Challenge: Where are you going this weekend? Would you be willing to ask God to show you someone who needs to be comforted with a smile, a kind word, or a prayer?