Serendipity 101: update from 'Coffee Cup U.'

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 19, 2004

Life continues to be beautiful at Cochrane's "Coffee Cup U." Take one recent morning, for instance.

I arrived at Coffee Traders around 11, ordered my usual mug of dark roast, and joined John Hall at his balcony table.

John, who refers to himself as "a retired computer guy," reminisced briefly over his motorcycling days in Sri Lanka and was just getting into the topic of astronomy and the loss of really dark night skies, when we noticed geologist and avid birder Mike Veloski and retired air-traffic dispatcher and woodcarver Bob Bartlett had taken over the table by the front entrance.

We decided to join them.

As we arrived at their table, parrot lover and man of many hats Steve Pride came through the door looking for me. Just back from his winter in Arizona, he had a copy of an article on migraines and their dietary triggers. Steve joined us and as I was introducing him and Mike to each other as birds of a feather, Lone Wolf Theatre Company founder and master storyteller Barry Thorson leaned over from his table.

What a star-studded moment, I thought to myself. Here we had four serious amateur astronomers all together at once – Steve grew up in a family of passionate stargazers down East, and Barry is currently compiling biographical notes on another of our favorite astronomers, the late Fr. Lucian "Lamplighter" Kemble.

Lamplighter Luc's delight in the night sky over Cochrane while on staff at the Mount St. Francis Retreat added immensely to the enjoyment of the heavenly hobby.

We were just returning to the impact of light pollution on stargazing when Hans and Martha Stocker came through the door, took off their bike helmets and joined us.

Hans and Martha had just bicycled the 25 km in from up the Grand Valley Rd. There, at the meeting place of rangeland and forestry, they live where deer play, bald eagles soar, and pelicans drop by for their annual visit.

Hans and Martha always add much to a conversation, whether about Alberta foothills wildlife, climbing rugged mountains in the Kananaskis and Switzerland (their place of birth), or cycling the length of Cuba. Oh, and did I mention that they're both in their 70s?

Before they left our table, David Lertzman joined the conversation momentarily on his way to a course he teaches at the University of Calgary.

Here is an academic who has never lost the wonder of simplicity. Scholar, yes, but even more, a troubadour. Indeed, if time had permitted, he would no doubt have created a song on the spot to celebrate the goodness of just being together at that moment, around that table, with beautiful friends new and old, on a glorious spring day in the legendary Bow Valley.

As David was heading out the door, Brian Norman pulled his chair over from an adjoining table. Brian's a retired physical therapist who spent much of his life in the Middle East with the British military. His insights into differences between Middle Eastern and Western cultural values have often brought balance to our understanding of global tensions. Like the others around our table, he seizes every day for all its wonderful worth.

Catherine Aylesworth now entered into our discussion. The personable communicator and life-skills coach is the kind of person who seizes each day for all it's worth, too. But this day she expressed distress over our society's inability to embrace the reality of death as part of the healthy embrace of life. When I told her of a recent funeral where, at the conclusion of the service, the 400 people present gave a three-minute standing ovation in honour of a life well lived, she said, "Yes!"

But Steve thought my example was the exception rather than the rule.

"The Pepsi generation thinks they're going to live forever," he said. "They don't even contemplate the last chapter."

At this point, regretfully, I had to take my leave from Coffee Cup U. for the day. Catherine and Steve raise an important issue, however, and I think we may want to return to the subject of our mortality and the journey of life in the coming weeks.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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