February 25th 2009 Coffee

I bought a cup of coffee at a café today. This simple act is insignificant for most people, but I almost never drink coffee. (Once upon a time, I dated a girl who drank coffee by the liter. On one of our first outings, we went out for coffee; she sometimes joked that it was the first and last time she ever saw me drink the stuff.) I visited the café because I’d just picked up an anthology of short plays by Tennessee Williams, and I wanted a quiet place to read; it seemed rude to take up a table and not buy a drink.

As I sat sipping and reading by myself, I thought how coffee always seemed to me to be a sign of maturity. As a kid, I recognized coffee as an “adult drink”, just a tiny step down from beer and liquor. During high school, my friend Dan, a year my senior, perpetually carried around a travel mug of the brew. Secretly I viewed it with some suspicion; in my mind, a high school kid was too young to be drinking coffee. But I always put the appropriate age for coffee consumption into the future: even in college, I never felt like I was “old enough” to drink it.

As I sat in the café, reading Williams and drinking coffee, it finally hit me: now, at age 23, I am a mature adult.

Maybe I was always right: as an 18-year-old, perhaps I was too young for both coffee and college. This morning’s epiphany reinforced a long-held belief that kids are pushed into college—and out the other side, into the dreaded “real world”—far too early and far too fast, before they even really know themselves. What hope do they have to make any real decisions about their futures?

How do you really know you’re old enough to drink the coffee?