“They have a new menu,” he said casually.
I felt myself tense; then got hold of it, recognising the reaction and how it had absorbed me into the moment in a bad way: making me identify with the building anger, rather than watching it unfold as a thing in its own right … losing me, in other words; losing me, that all-important sense of being present, rather than being mechanical. He had, I had to admit, taught me certain things well … so why, this Monday morning, did I have a mounting sense of ‘smug git’ as I looked at him?
John held up the computer-printed coffee menu. “It says they have recognised that their clientele fall into three bands.” He spoke evenly, in measured tones. There was no hint of his overbearing side; which was why I was suspicious … “It says that they are going to offer three levels of coffee from now on: ‘Good and Basic’, by which I take it to mean that old fashioned black or white coffee with no Italian frills,” he paused to look at me over his reading glasses, nodding when I appeared attentive. “‘A Continental Range’, by which I assume they mean Italian-derived staples, such as cappuccino and latté …” he sipped his own latté, looking slightly peeved that he’d only achieved mid-range on the new scale. “… and ‘Something Special’ which includes extra flavouring like vanilla and flashes of genius like a chai tea latté.”
He put down the folded paper, looking across at me for a verdict. I sipped my own coffee and said nothing … The phrase ‘smug git’ was still writing itself on the surface of my wresting consciousness. I had first called him it on my sixteenth birthday; having learned it from a friend on whom I was, at that time, modelling myself. He had made some closing point in an argument. It was an unassailable piece of logic and I had wanted to bring him down a peg or two, so I said it to his face …
It was the first time I had been conscious of psychologically hurting an adult. It was also the first time I had watched someone else wrestle with themselves, not externally, for he kept his cool admirably, as uncles are supposed to do; but inside, where the barb had struck and stuck. Looking back on that moment I realised that he had known that he could, indeed, be a ‘smug git’, and had probably tried, without too much success, to suppress it. Five minutes after I had said it, it was forgotten, and the dinner party picked up without damage.
He had, over the years, reminded me of it, but never with rancour … always with a joke, a remembering of a shared gateway to a different world – for us both.
“A bit like the myths, then?” he said, softly, across from me now, in a voice that was very different to then.
“Like the myths … coffee?” I asked.
“The three levels of meaning,” he said simply.
My head was starting to whirl. From unwarranted annoyance, to long-ago memories, to coffee and … myths? “You’ve lost me!” I said, taking a deep breath and trying hard to direct my attention to what he was saying.
“The best of the myths, from whenever they derive, often have three levels of meaning.”
I sat up, concentrating as I would in a legal situation. “Give me an example,” I said.
“We’ll come to the Greeks, later,” he said, “But let’s take a classic – the different ways to describe the truth in the Gospels.
I pretended to look shocked. “You’re taking the Gospels as myth!”
“In the best way possible, yes …” he responded, but that’ s for another day … what I wanted to do was to take situations you would recognise to illustrate a point.”
“Okay,” I said, playing it cool.
“How did they represent truth in the Old Testament?” he asked me.
I wracked my brains; religion had never done much for me, despite John’s attempts to get me to see ‘under the covers’ as he had often said. From somewhere, the image of Moses surfaced, standing, in the pages of my childhood’s illustrated Bible, on a mountain, holding up huge tablet of …
“Stone …” I said, triumphantly.
“Exactly!” he enthused. “Stone … Tell me the properties of ‘stone’.”
I was onto this, now. I could see that this was an interesting avenue of exploration.
“Fixed,” I said. “As in ‘set in stone’.”
“Exactly. So the older concept of truth would be something that is still with us: the letter of the law …”
I cringed at that. How often had I railed at the legal system that made all of us who earned our living under its wings reduce our thoughts to the most simple forms of logic. And how unfair some of the results of that were.
“We should be able to do better, in this day and age, but how could we measure it?”
“Another day,” he said. “Or you’ll miss your train.” He rotated the forefinger of his right hand. “Now fast forward to the Gospels. How was Jesus baptised into the truth of what was to be a short, dramatic and painful ministry?”
The ideas were flowing … I could feel as well as see where this was headed. “With water,” I said, watching the words fly through the space to his gently knowing face.
“And water is …?”
“Not stone,” I answered, entering the mystery he had set. “Not stone at all. It flows around things, it’s all connected …” I pulled my head up as a revelation hit home. “It’s whole!”
John was nodding. “Whole, indeed,” he said. “So the Gospels moved the concepts of truth on, but did they stop at water?”
Now I was struggling. I wracked my brains but couldn’t think. John looked at his watch and shook his head. It was a easy gesture; with no impatience. “No matter,” he said. “and next week, we’ll finally begin to look at one of the Labours of Heracles – armed with a certain knowledge that truths are represented in different ways and on different levels, depending on who they’re addressed to.” He paused to finish his coffee. “But, for now, I must go. He tapped his jaw, wincing slightly. “Dentist. Need a filling, I think …”
Just before leaving he pushed the new drinks menu across the table to me. “Interesting reading,” he said.
As the old glass door swung shut I looked at my watch and realised that he had left early. I had time to finish my own coffee and peruse the new delights being offered by Rose’s establishment. Not bothering with the cover, I went straight for the detail. Sure enough, there were the three categories of hot drinks, labelled: Good and Basic; Continental; and Something Special.
And then my eyes saw it. Right at the bottom of the page was a single paragraph: ‘For those of us of sufficient years who have developed their ability to taste, we offer a small selection of fine wines.’
And then I noticed that there were no prices against any of the items on the menu. Beginning to smile, I turned the unread front cover into view. There, in simple block letters were the words:
The Smug Git Cafe
The Truth of the Matter
I was still smiling as I swung my black bags onto the carriage and climbed aboard my week.
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
All images and text ©International copyright, The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, 2015.