Everybody drinks coffee. It’s a warm start in an otherwise cold world. For one woman, that simple cup has become the catalyst for a year-long experiment. What happens when you mix “caffeine and conversation” in a way that ultimately changes your life?
That is the basis for “52 Cups of Coffee,” an online diary of sorts by Michigan State University student Megan Gebhart. Most college seniors are grubbing to get those last credits, enjoying adult beverages and doing other casual things. The reflective Gebhart went in the other direction…she is like Jack Kerouac with a Starbucks jones.
Each week, she sits down with someone she has never met before over a cuppa Joe. Her guest – typically someone a friend has recommended – shares his or her life’s story. Gebhart’s reaction, her introspection and her retelling via her website gives us insights not only to the speaker but to the young woman telling the tale.
So when I spoke to Gebhart recently, I jumped into conversation. In fact, I forgot to introduce myself. That is what her so-called blog does to you – her intimate writing style and full disclosure makes you feel like old friends even before you say, “Hello.” Perhaps that is one reason “52 Cups” is such a fun read. It’s one part self-help, one part voyeurism, one part inspiration.
So who have been her most memorable? There is Cup 3 – August Crabtree, a reformed alcoholic who is more well-read than the average college professor. “He really reshaped the way I view people,” Gebhart said. “That was a great lesson to learn early on: You can learn something from everybody you meet.”
August asked me what I was passionate about, which caught me off guard. It’s a trickier question than it seems and I couldn’t organize the dozens of thoughts floating around my head into a coherent sentence so I replied with, “I’m not exactly sure, I’m still in the process of finding out”. He told me not to worry, “you’re young, which means you have the world by the balls. You’ll figure it out.”
Cup 16 was Lou Anna K. Simon, President of Michigan State University (how many undergrads get to share a drink with the Prez?). Cup 19 was impressive as well — Stefan Olander, the Vice President of Digital Sports at Nike. Cup 21 was prestigious in another way. It was Torya Blanchard, owner of Detroit’s Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes. Blanchard’s “Fight Club” analogy gave Gebhart pause…You only have one life – how are you going to live it?
I asked Torya how she dealt with the inevitable stress of the decision to start Good Girls. She said it was stressful, but that wasn’t going to stop her—the crepe store was something she had to do. She said very candidly, “When I get older, I want to look back and say I did everything I wanted to do.” It was such a simple statement, but a profound reminder that we only live once –we have one shot to make life everything we want it to be. That’s an idea that is often overlooked as we get caught up in the to-do lists of day to day life. Torya doesn’t forget. She tries to squeeze the most out of every moment of life.
(Side note: Blanchard’s response on Facebook to Gebhart’s post…”The only journalist to get the story 100% correct. Cool project….”)
Actually, Gebhart said she doesn’t have a “favorite” cup. Every conversation builds upon each other. “It’s like playing a video game; you have to unlock that level before you get to the next,” she said.
Cup 22 – a conversation with a 6-year-old Native American – turned the project from what Gebhart felt she got out of her conversations to greater life lessons. The little girl told Gebhart about instances at recess where other kids teased her, telling her about how “Indians are extinct” and “chop people’s heads off.” Ugh.
When we were talking about how the kids at school treat her, Rachel asked, with perfect mom pitch, “Abby, what does your teacher tell you to do when people are being mean?” Abby’s answer was simple, “Let your light shine.” We can’t control the way others treat us, but that doesn’t mean we let them stop us from shining. That’s a great lesson to learn from a six year old.
“That’s when it hit me. Everybody has a story and everybody is fighting an uphill battle. We’re quick to judge people or discount them. In realty, everybody could use a little love and a little kindness,” Gebhart said.
She is half-way through the journey. Gebhart doesn’t have a job set up yet for after graduation. That is most accidental and purposeful. After talking to Blanchard, Gebhart decided to follow her intuition and book a LONG trip to Europe. In fact, the project will end while she’s there. You have one life – you’ve got to live it to the fullest.
“This has been life-changing in that I’m okay with not knowing. I really feel that things are going to unfold the way they should,” Gebhart said. “I don’t know where this going to take me. I’m excited to find out.”
(Side Note No. 2: So this isn’t purely about Detroit. It’s just a damn cool story for a Friday. Oh, and I think this would make a great book. Somebody should publish it. And give me credit. Or at least a side note.)