Yizkor: The Last Cup of Coffee

The Last Cup of Coffee

Picture with me coffee shop in a small back alley.  At first glance, it seems like any other coffee shop.  It is filled with all the usual things: tables and chairs, drinks and pastries, employees, customers etc.  In this particular shop, there is an extra intensity in the conversations and many noticeable clocks on all of the walls.

The coffee shop I am describing is from a beautiful new book: “Before the coffee gets cold.”   The story centers around this special coffee shop and a unique opportunity it offers its customers.  While in this coffee shop the characters can do the impossible.  They can travel forward or backward in time to have a conversation with someone special to them.  As with all such stories, there are specific rules about these conversations that need to be followed.  Nothing that happens in these conversations can change the present.  For example, if a character is sick or has passed away, nothing in the coffee visits can change that.  They cannot leave the coffee shop.  And the last rule and the hardest one is the conversation can only last as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.  Some of the characters extend their time by getting refills, but there is a time limit on these visits and they are acutely aware of it.

Just imagine you if you had this chance.  Not the first book to imagine this, we have all imagined -Just one more- one more cup of coffee.

The book describes four beautiful and heartbreaking coffee visits.  The first one involves a couple who have a misunderstanding and this leads to their break up.  According to the first rule, they can’t reconcile in this coffee visit to change their present, but they uncover their mistake and move forward differently because of it.  A second story depicts a husband and wife.  In this scenario, the husband has early onset Alzheimer’s.  The nurse wife goes back in time to receive this letter he wrote to her and to spend time with her husband while he is aware of who she is. Anyone who has experienced this illness in their family knows you would give anything to get back just a little more time.  The third story is about a mother who dies shortly after childbirth and she visits the child she did not have the opportunity to get to know.  Each of these emotional stories are filled with beautiful heartbreak for us to ponder in this moment of yizkor and memory.  We come to the yizkor service for our own visits of sorts with those we have lost.

The fourth narrative tells the story of two sisters.  For the Yizkor service allow me to call them by Hebrew names.  This story describes the estrangement between the siblings Leah and Esther.  Esther has moved away from her family and their family business and Leah has had to take her place.  Leah becomes greatly resentful because of that.  Over the years, Esther has avoided Leah and has stayed away from her parents’ home.  Esther has rebuffed all of Leah’s efforts to reconnect.   But when Leah is tragically killed Esther is filled with regret.  When we met her, Esther wants is one more cup of coffee with her beautiful sister Leah.  She desperately wants the chance to make amends and reconnect one last time.  So Esther uses the coffee visit to do that and uncovers that Leah is not resentful of her, she just wanted to run the family business together.  Going back to the first rule, they never have this opportunity. But Esther uses every second she can to spend time with her precious Leah.

This final story has stayed with me.   We know this deep longing to have one more cup of coffee with our loved one.  With our extra time we want to say the things we didn’t get to, heal unresolved tensions or just to tell our loved ones that we love them.  One more, just one more time, one more cup of coffee.

In each of these stories, the characters visiting their loved one know that saying good-bye is going to break their hearts again, but each of them know it is worth it for the extra time with their loved one.  None of the characters want to say good-bye.  Some drink the last sip very quickly to get it over with, and others wait as long as possible to avoid the final good-bye.

Would we/you take the painful heartbreak of another good-bye to have a few more precious minutes with a loved ones?

If I had the chance, I would have coffee with grandfather on my mother’s side.  He died when I was two so I never got to know him in person only through stories.  He was English, he loved to read.  He was full of life and optimism until he died. Despite my lack of time with him, I feel like he has had a big impact on me.  If I could have coffee with him now, I would tell him that I married someone English.  I would tell him that his great grandchildren wear glasses and love to read too.  I would share the values and love of Judaism he instilled in my mom, were passed down to me and I have, in turn taught them to my children.  I would love to hear his voice just once and give him a hug. I know it would be heart breaking to say good-bye, but it would be worth to see him.  Everyone in this room has one cup of coffee you know you would cherish to have extra time with a loved one.

Coffee itself is a powerful image.  Perhaps coffee is already something painful for you. Maybe you used to have coffee with your loved one every day.   Maybe they used to brew it for you in the morning so it would be ready when you woke up, or you would make it for them.  Maybe you would meet at the certain coffee shop and now you can’t pass it without thinking of them.  Maybe you remember exactly how they took their coffee and order it every now and again just to feel close to them.  Maybe it is a daily reminder that your loved one is no longer there.

This longing to be with our loved ones is not just the premise of a book but it is embedded into our liturgy as well.

In the Amidah, core prayers of our daily, Shabbat and holiday worship.  The second of prayers in this section the G’uvrout. It begins with these words: Atah gibor l’olam Adonai.  This translates to You (God) are external strength forever.  Usually we continue with m’chayeih hakol atah rav l’hosia. Translates as You (God) give life to all.  When we say, m’chayeih hakol, the words we normally recite, we are praising God and giving thanks to God who gives life.  The prayer is stating God’s strength is expanded by giving life.  These words remind us of the incredible gift of life, not just for us, but for all of the life around us every day.

But there is second option for the words in the G’uvrout.  In place of saying m’chayeih hakol, we can say m’chayieh meitim.  And this has a very different meaning.  This translates to – God who revives the dead.  Once our people did believe that one day all of the souls of our loved ones would return.  As a nod to this concept our prayer books contain both options.

Often when traditional congregations say m’chayieh meitim, it is thought of as a metaphor.  Logically, we know it is impossible to bring back those we have lost, even for God, but we also know sometimes there is a longing in our hearts that transcends metaphor.

Today on this Yom Kippur, in this Yizkor service, we want to say these words not as metaphor but reflecting our desire to reunite with our loved ones. Even if only for the briefest amount of time. The universal longing has made this book so popular because we want to time with our loved one while the coffee remains hot.

I invite you now to take a few moments to sit with your memories of your loved one.  Who would you visit for one more cup of coffee?  What would you say to them? What would you want to hear?  How would you say good-bye again?

The only comfort we have in our aching hearts today, is our memories, the precious time we had together.  And knowing that we are not walking the path of loss alone.  We share this pain as we sit alone and collectively in grief.  We comfort each other and support one another in on our remembrance.  We will always love them and miss them.  We think of them with love today, and everyday –

Take a few moments think about your loves one and imagine your very last cup of coffee with them.