Parched For Community


Through bleary eyes I watched the beaten-up blue Tempo roll out of the parking lot and point southward. As two sets of hands waved their bittersweet goodbyes from rolled-down windows, there was only word on my mind: community.

I needed community.

Standing at a crossroads—both literally and metaphorically—I could feel my heart being pulled in a million contrasting directions. Part of me stubbornly wanted to continue pursuing the venturesome life of a humanitarian expatriate, working deep in the trenches of human trafficking prevention across international borders.  

But as I watched my friends merge into an engulfment of traffic and disappear into a blazing California sunrise, the other part of me couldn’t remember why I had uprooted myself to begin with. For the first time, my nomadic lifestyle and its series of six-month job contracts and non-permanent living situations, along with temporary friendships and an endless stream of goodbyes, all seemed more exhausting than appealing.

Mechanically, I found myself walking down the street to an orange brick café tucked away in a corner of Little Italy. During my short-term stay in San Diego, the café had compelled me daily into its inviting quarters.

Every time, the same barista would warmly greet me and ask if I wanted one or two additional shots of espresso today—as if it was non-optional to consume caffeine in regular quantities. But no matter how strong and robust the coffee was, or how beautiful the rise and fall of Italian opera played softly in the background, or how much the atmosphere of the café took me back to my travels in Italy, it wasn’t the espresso that kept drawing me back in.

Even before I’d stepped foot into the café, I heard the sing-song voice of the same brown-eyed, bubbly barista—her voice punctuated by a rich Italian accent—hollering, “Bonjourno, Katie!”

She knew my name.

After seven years, the draining nature of my humanitarian work and the anonymity of my travels had finally caught up with me. I was as desperate for consistent human connection as much as the city of San Diego was desperate for rain in its drought.

As grinding espresso machines and Pavarotti’s operatic tenor competed for attention in the background of the café, I wondered at what point my life became more about operating in survival mode rather than living joyously. 

Hopping from country to country, from one humanitarian crisis to the next had originally seemed to be the perfect blend of adventure and altruism. Over time, however, most of my immediate influencing factors—from my supervisors to my faith background, from my social justice training to my own stubborn unwillingness to be vulnerable—had construed a sick sort of nobility out of missional self-sacrifice.  

Did my worth come from trying to become a hero—or was my worth inherent as a human, created carefully and uniquely for the purpose to love and be loved? 

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on SheLoves. View the full post here>>