BACK IN THE CAFÉ
It’s 11:55 a.m. on my 113th day at Recovery Café Longmont, and I have first day jitters. Even though I’ve been on staff for four months, this is going to be my first day working while we’re open in-person. I’m finally going to see the Café in action.
Becky, our manager of hospitality, and I head outside with gloves, masks, a thermometer, a health screening form, and a few other useful accoutrements of the COVID-19 era. These are the things that will be in a museum someday in an exhibit about this pandemic. Maybe the exhibit will be labeled, “Boring but important” or “It’s the simple things in life that matter (when fighting against a virus).” Time may prove me wrong, but at this point in the pandemic, it’s not looking like the fight will be won by big technological advances, but by these simple tools. That, and a whole lot of compassion for other people.
Ready for business
In any case, we wait for a while and no one shows up. Not for the first hour, at least. Becky and I pack up our things and go back inside. Lisa, our executive director, and Rhonda, our development specialist, are in the Café, too, ready for business. The three veteran staff are calm. I’ve still got those first day jitters, even though it looks like the day might be a trial run.
And then the door opens, and one of our members comes loping down the steps in a cowboy hat and cloth mask. His phone has been off for a few weeks, and he tells us he didn’t know we were open. He was just walking by and thought he’d check. After all of the planning that went into reopening, it turns out the first member back in just has lucky timing. Just like that, we feel like we’re back in business.
A few other members wander in over the next hour and a half. It’s not nearly as busy as pre-COVID times, but, after months of social distancing, it still feels like a crowd. Things are a little different inside the Café. Everyone sits six feet apart and wears a mask. Staff serves sack lunches, coffee, and water. There are some awkward starts and stops in the conversation as people get to know each other again. But
The pandemic has made it even harder
No one talks much about the difficulties of surviving four months of wide-scale closures. It’s there, though, in the spaces in between the conversations. In a pair of eyes looking away as someone mentions how strange this time has been. I can understand why no one puts voice to the feeling. What is there to say that isn’t already known? Living with the sort of challenges our members face—housing and employment insecurity, substance use and mental health concerns, stigma—was already hard. The pandemic has made it even harder.
There’s happiness, too, of course. Sadness and happiness seem to live pretty close together these days. One member talks about the success he’s found starting a new business. Another one shares his artwork. A third one talks about how happy he is to have found a place to work where he likes the people. Looking around, I think, “I get that.” The people make all the difference between a place you can’t wait to get to and one you can’t wait to leave.
The power of little certainties
All too soon, it’s time to close for the day. As we say goodbye to the last of our members, I’m reminded of the power of little certainties. The last time we closed that door, we promised we’d be open again as soon as we safely could. That ended up being almost four months. This time, we promise we’ll be open again in four days.
I think we can all live with that wait.