K.S. ANTHONY: A Certain Kind of Hope.

25 April 2014

A Certain Kind of Hope.

There is a certain kind of hope that comes with sitting alone in a café with a book. You don't really find it in bars. The disinhibition that comes with alcohol leaves no room to create an illusion of solitude, though I have known drinkers--myself included--who can go into a bar and drink and not talk to anyone. To sit alone in a café, though, is to hope.

What I have hoped for in cafés is invariably the same thing: the unexpected company of someone who miraculously gets me. The book has to provide what the hoped-for company might provide, but it's also a prop: an excuse, an invitation. There's a certain snob appeal to reading Flaubert or Balzac or Proust in a café: a kind of self-conscious attempt at sophistication that people mock but that all people engage in on some level or another. The public exhibition of personal taste is often the exhibition of personal loneliness; of private longing. Any writer who has scribbled on a bar napkin has hoped for the right person to ask what he or she is writing. Anyone who has sighed and re-read their favorite paragraph or poem has hoped to look up and see someone smiling.

The hope is never for just anyone. It's a hope for the perfect stranger, who, of course, will be attractive and confident while being humble and kind; intelligent and soft-spoken while being passionate and erudite. The perfect stranger isn't carved from marble or painted on canvas because that perfect stranger would then be perfect for everyone and therefore not perfect. What makes this a hope is that we're searching for the stranger who will be perfect for us; who will recognize in us--by our taste in coffee or tea or pastries, by our refined taste in 19th century French authors or rare jazz recordings from the 1930s--a kindred spirit, a soulmate.

Of course, we can never be too obvious. This is why we must sit alone. We need the illusion of solitude in order to really give ourselves over to this hope. How could the stranger know that we're waiting for them if we're with some tedious person with whom we grudgingly pass the time and who laughs too loudly, argues too rabidly, and slurps their cappuccino? I hold that we are most ourselves when we are alone and hoping, our dogeared paperbacks and battered notebooks stained with coffee and marginalia.

If not that, then we are certainly our best selves: the selves we present when we're doing something as careless and as cautious as falling in love, confession by confession, secret by secret, second by second. One cup, one page, one hope at a time with those who have looked at us and miraculously found us to be perfect strangers.