Some Like it Cold: Coffee, Contentment and Life

It’s the last weekend in August, and a half-gallon glass jug of highly caffeinated, room temperature sludge sits dormant on the kitchen counter. The entire concoction is reminiscent of the bottom of a cup of Turkish coffee – an undrinkable slurry of coffee grounds and water. Rather than nearing the end of its life, however, this batch of coffee is only getting started.

Most people think of coffee-making as a five minute procedure: pour a scoop or two of grounds into a coffee filter, dump in a few cups of tap water, press a button, and watch the pot fill with the steaming beverage. This method is okay for brewing hot coffee, but hot coffee is not always desirable during the warmer months of the year. For those willing to wait for something more temperature appropriate, there is a lesser-known way to make ice-cold, delicious, summer-friendly java.

Cold brewing coffee is an exercise in extreme patience. Contrary to the quick prep time associated with a hot pot of coffee, cold brewed coffee takes at least an entire day to prepare. To make a good pitcher, one must coarsely grind the appropriate amount of coffee beans, add a measure of water, stir, and let the grounds steep for anywhere between twelve and sixteen hours. After the coffee beans have leached fully into the water, the grounds need to be separated from the liquid. This results in a rich coffee concentrate with sweet, mellow undertones. Mixed with water or milk and served over ice, the blend creates a smooth, refreshing drink fitting for the hottest of days. Simply put, cold brewed coffee is inconvenient to make but very good to drink.

Lots of worthwhile things are difficult and time-consuming. Reflecting on the many steps of cold brewing coffee reminds me of how long it seems to take to get anywhere “meaningful” in life, especially before I perceive myself as having “arrived.” It is easy to get frustrated with the unknown nature of what may lie ahead – what is my future career actually going to be? Am I ever going to pay off these loans? Will I get married? It appears likely that our culture of instant gratification and quick fixes pretty easily mistranslates to our concept of how life is supposed to progress.

Allowing this state of mind to rule your way of life is like pouring hot coffee over ice cubes; the result is both a stunted, diluted version of what was and a subpar manifestation of what could have been. Instead, like coffee grounds steeping in a cool jug of water, be who you are, where you are – call it “cold brewing life.” Life is the process of living, and the person you will one day be is influenced by the way you live right now. Consider today as being invaluable to the person you are becoming, regardless of whether or not you see its ultimate purpose in your own life narrative.

Drinking a sludgy pitcher of cold brewed coffee after only two or three hours of brewing is pointless and gross. So is worrying about your life for the sake of maintaining some illusion of control. Steep contentedly in the water of your current world, creating opportunities to add your flavor to your surroundings along the way – it will make you a better person. Live life cold brewed.

Leave Your Friends.

I am really bad at being alone, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Why is the company of other people such a pressing issue on my mind? It’s completely natural, of course, for an “extraverted” person (more on that later) to seek the constant company of friends. If being with a group of people provides energy for an individual, it makes sense for that person to surround themselves with others.

At its healthiest, my desire – maybe even my need – to be with other people enhances my social circles and helps me be a blessing to the people around me. At its worst, though, I begin relying on other humans to grant me meaning and validate my worth as a person. Something tells me that this isn’t fine and okay, it’s unhealthy and corrosive to my relationships with others and to my relationship with myself.

If I believe that my identity as an individual goes beyond my ability to entertain other people and manage a full social calendar, if there is anything unique and specific to my personhood that goes beyond how I define myself through my relationships with others, then maybe it’s worth it to spend time getting to know myself, by myself. Actually, it is vital and necessary to spend time alone. We often draw a false dichotomy between extraversion and solitude, as though the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Just because I draw energy from crowds and social interaction does not mean that I am exempt from exploring who I am without other people. To a large extent, solitude is necessary for personal reflection and introspection. If I want to know myself, I need to be alone. It’s not selfish, it’s healthy.

For a long time, the thought of purposely doing anything sans people was stupid and unthinkable. Being in a college environment makes it too easy and too logical to always be around others; changing the status quo doesn’t immediately make a lot of sense to my mind. It wasn’t until I found myself walking to church alone through downtown Chicago early one Sunday morning that I realized that, maybe, it would be a good idea to carve out some time to spend by myself, so I decided to make Sunday afternoon my “alone time.”

A certain degree of freedom exists in the intentional solitude I experience once every seven days. The thought of being completely untied to another human for a given period of time was uncomfortable at first, but granting myself the ability to make my own decisions and perform my own life for nobody but myself teaches me more about who I actually am as a person. Solitude is also necessary for people who expend energy in social situations. If somebody wants to make the most of the time and energy they choose to spend with others, they must first learn to be themselves, for themselves.

I want to get better at being alone. Spending one afternoon per week by myself was a tall order when I started, but I am slowly learning to explore my own desires, my own thoughts, my own person. Everybody needs some regular measure of time by themselves to stay healthy – I guess it just comes easier for some than others. Knowing oneself is an important thing. Sometimes, the only way to genuinely figure yourself out is to be the only person there.

All By Myself

I’m okay with being single. Really, I am. You should be, too.

One of the questions I’m asked most often when returning home goes something like this: “So, Alex…any ‘special’ girls in your life?” The more I hear it, the more I laugh internally when it is asked.

It’s not that I don’t understand the question — I do. It makes sense that a young, single person surrounded by other young, single people may have their eyes open for a significant other. It’s also not that I don’t have my eyes open for anyone else — there are definitely people I notice, and I don’t necessarily feel called to a life of celibacy. Besides, my mother wants grandchildren (I told her to adopt a retired racing greyhound if she wants to love on something new, but she didn’t buy the idea).

The commonality of the question of dating (and consequently, in Christian circles, marriage) tells us something about our culture, though. We’ve taken relationships, dating, and marriage and glorified them to the point where they are not only encouraged, but assumed. “Are you dating somebody?” has become a pretty safe question to ask a young adult — nobody (myself included) takes offense or is really shocked whenever another posits it to them. But even its answer, in my case, often takes an apologetic form — “No, not right now [unfortunately], but we’ll see what happens, I guess [I promise I’ll find somebody to date soon, just for you/the rest of society].”

Here’s my question: Why does the question always seem to be about dating? In my view, society has inflated the value of romantic relationships — particularly those among college students, but also among everyone. Looking at the situation from a pros-and-cons perspective, singles both young and old have it going on — mobility, financial independence, the ability to have truly singular focus on something important to them…the list goes on. Personally, I am doing just fine without a girlfriend. I value the freedom and flexibility afforded to me by singleness. Career-wise, I have the ability to go anywhere and do anything after graduation, an option not as readily available for my contemporaries in long-term relationships (or married).

Of all the experiences I have had while away at college, all the things about which I have learned, all the memories I have made, the topics of dating and relationships probably rank somewhere near the bottom of the list. Some people might not be okay with this for their personal lives, but I see it as one of the best things about my time at school to this point. I get four years to do college, but I get the rest of my life to do dating/relationships/marriage/etc. While I’m not actively avoiding romantic relationships, I see the general lack of their existence during my college experience as being extremely beneficial to my ability to learn, grow, explore the life of the mind, and figure my own life out.

Our apparent preconceived notion as a society that dating is always better than being single is detrimental to our ability to understand ourselves as individuals. It may sound selfish or egocentric, but I think it’s fair and viable to value personal development, comfort with oneself as a person, and freedom above the security that comes with romantic relationships. Call me crazy, but I believe that not dating somebody is the best possible thing to do for myself right now. Maybe the same is true for some other people reading this. Regardless of whether you are a student, young professional, or find yourself in a more advanced stage of life, the idea that you need to be in a relationship is incorrect. Remember that our socially constructed ideals are not always optimum — especially on the individual level.

Even if you just know that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life alone, consider the following: enjoy being single. You do not have to begin your search for love and romance right now just because you can. Maybe the only reason you’re enamored with the idea of having a boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, or husband is because our culture says that you need one (and need one right now) in order to be as “valid” or “socially advanced” as those who do have one. This is not true. Right now, if you are single, take a breath and understand that your life might currently be more free, open, and exciting than it would ever be if you were in a committed relationship. Dating is good. Marriage is good. Being single is equally as good as both of these.

I’m okay with being single. Really, I am. You should be, too.