what are you doing the rest of your life?

The funny thing about the Craft Cafe at the Mingei International Museum is that it’s a very small space. There’s a bar full of pastries, the ordering counter, a fridge with refrigerated snacks, and a station for sugar and cream. Other than that, there’s space for people to line up leading out the door and that’s about it. Since I usually go in the middle of the afternoon, I get caught in the lunch rush. I try my best to be self-aware about how much space I take up. I know where the line is. I know what I want to order before it’s my turn. I wait outside and listen for my order to be called. 

But with every week I spend time here, I’m reminded more and more that the general public is not so concerned with politeness and efficiency. For example, a couple weeks ago, a mom brought her three wild kids into the cafe and asked them what they wanted after arriving at the register, rather than in the previous five minutes of waiting in line. A few minutes later, they all ordered grilled cheeses. Another woman asked to pay with cash after the barista had confirmed she would pay with a card. After the barista said they didn’t know if they could go back, the woman asked for a manager who came around the cancel and re-enter her order. This week, a group of elder museum-goers waited inside the cafe, taking up the limited space available, to chat while their extra-hot lattes were prepared. The person before me paid for his $6 coffee with a $100 bill. I heard my coffee order called out for pickup and went inside to see two people attempting to claim my cup as their own. I raised my hand to the barista who saw and nodded in my direction. I pushed through the small crowd to receive my oat milk cappuccino. 

I’m currently sitting in the foyer where there are more people than usual sitting to chat or working on laptops or resting on couches. We are here to pause for a while individually, together. So we sat. And I’m thinking about the courtesy in the cafe and how there are no signs of direction for anyone to follow and the hurried baristas are just trying their best. There’s a philosophical point that can be made about types of people and the space that we occupy and our environmental impact based on the way we treat each other and our awareness of our choices’ effect. But it’s my day off and I’m tired so I’ll save the thought for another afternoon.

For now, we’ll stick with the space that we currently occupy. What space do I, at the end of Mingei’s long leather couch, affect based on my mere presence here? Does it matter that this seat is taken if there are plenty of empty chairs around? Most of the people in the foyer have moved on now. On to the next exhibit, on to the gift shop, on to head home. So it’s me and a person on their laptop, as I will soon be, in this wide room. I don’t imagine we will ever acknowledge each other. 

There’s a woman who works at the Mingei gift shop. My guess is that she’s a manager or curator based on the frequency of her presence here. She seems comfortable and collected. She has beautiful, brown curly hair and she’s on the taller side. I noticed her the first time I ever came to the museum on Labor Day weekend. It was incredibly busy that day, and Luke and I had come to the park for the afternoon. Even with her mask on, I recognized her as a customer from Gold Leaf. On more than one occasion, she had come in to find a gift for a friend or something for herself on a day off. She was kind. She carried light conversation. I think she may have been one of the handful of customers with whom I shared my desire to move to New York. She was a stranger I wasn’t afraid to confide in. Either way, I remembered her. And I wanted to say something to her. I wanted to see if she recognized me too. But I didn’t know how to start the conversation. “Hi, do you shop at the store where I work? I know you do but I don’t want to be creepy. Anyway, bye!” Even worse, I don’t think I’ve ever asked her name. So I said nothing.

Every time I see her here, I wonder if she remembers me and if she’s in the same boat I’m in. If we acknowledge our familiarity, where do we go from there? Is it even worth the acknowledgment? But I remember her out of admiration, and isn’t it nice to know that you made a pleasant impact on a stranger? But how awkward for both parties if I tell her I recognize her and she has no recollection of me. Then we’ve entered a situation that requires recovery. So I will walk through the gift shop and make brief eye contact with a squint to indicate a smile. We are perfectly pleasant strangers. 

I just learned via eavesdropping that the ceiling in the Artifact foyer is an installation called Suspended Rain, designed by Jennifer Luce. The die-cut metal panels reflect a player piano roll featuring the song, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” First, I acknowledged that upon hearing this tidbit, my heart swelled at the idea of combining music and design on such a large scale that it’s almost unrecognizable. I also felt as though I had just learned an exciting secret, regardless of the fact that this information is accessible in many online articles. But what an exciting thing to overhear!

What are you doing the rest of your life? How does one become a curator or ceiling designer? How do we pick space to occupy that we can walk into with daily satisfaction? How can we alter our trajectory when we are unfulfilled with our current state? How does the concept of a beautiful design make me want to blissfully cry? How can I implement this concept into my routines? How can we make space for time to sit on couches? How do I give myself authority and autonomy to make changes for my well-being that aren’t tethered to a fear of disappointing others? How do I give myself credit where credit is due? How do I romanticize my own life? How do I read more? All of these answers in due time, I suppose.

It’s a lot of waiting. Waiting for our coffee, for our turn, for the right time. But I’m reminded of a quote from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a rather important children’s film. Mr. Magorium and Molly Mahoney have set all of the clocks in a clock shop to ring out at the same time, erupting in an enormously orchestrated noise. They’ve met in the middle after adjusting the hands to wait for the chaos. Mahoney says, “Thirty-seven seconds. Great, well done; now we wait.” Rather than staring back in ticking silence, Mr. Magorium responds.

No. We breathe, we pulse, we regenerate. Our hearts beat, our minds create, our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds well used is a lifetime.

Cheers to thirty-seven seconds, to an hour, an afternoon, a lifetime. May we occupy enough space and time to find answers to our questions and confidence within ourselves.

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