This morning, for the first time in a year, I had my first cup of real, honest-to-God coffee. You see, last summer I had an encounter with caffeine that totally reformed my whole perception of it: While on a writing binge, I consumed three large cups of coffee one after the other after the other. Something then happened that had never happened before — my heart rate shot through the roof (like say, 130 bpm), my blood pressure spiked to a dangerously high number, and I thought I was going to die. Yes, really. I even wound up going to the hospital to get checked out, having never encountered anything like that before. Once the effects of the caffeine subsided about an hour or so later, I was fine. In the twenty-some-odd years I’d been drinking coffee, it had never turned against me with such hostility. After this bright red warning sign, when I consumed even a little caffeine, I noticed that some of my previous symptoms began to return. Maybe it was psychosomatic, maybe not. Either way, I didn’t like the feeling.
So, I was turned off of caffeine for a good long while. For the past year, I’ve been a devotee of caffeine-free everything, from sodas to foods (bummer: chocolate has caffeine), and it has been a purification by fire. Admittedly, my mind has been clearer, my body has been more responsive, and my teeth have been noticeably whiter. This fast of sorts has had its advantages. Still, though, something was missing.
At family events, I declined the southern house wine (Sweet Tea) in favor of water. At writing events, I opted for beverages clear and flat while others around me were delighting in the carefree enjoyment of lattes and mochas. Yes, I missed it. But I didn’t miss the near-death sensation from my prior encounter. Better safe than sorry, I told myself.
So this morning, when I found I was totally out of decaf (which, by the way, still has trace amounts of caffeine), I took a risk and made a cup of the hard stuff. I prepared it as I would have pre-fast, two sugars no cream, and partook slowly and cautiously. Thus far, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling no ill effects. A little physiological charge, perhaps, but nothing devastating.
World religions of all sorts preach moderation, and perhaps this account is one that reinforces that idea. “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone,” teacher John Keating advises his charges in the classic movie Dead Poets Society. Sometimes we have to nearly choke on the bone to appreciate the marrow, however. I don’t plan to caffeinate myself like I used to, but I am hopeful that I can have an occasional indulgence without frightening repercussions. I’ve missed being a coffeehouse regular, I’ve missed the ritual of preparing a single cup before writing, and I’ve missed being a part of the rich history that “real” coffee embodies.
Today, as ten ounces of Nantucket Blend wind their way through my system, I’m reminded of a Simon and Garfunkel tune: Hello darkness my old friend/ I’ve come to talk to you again. The trick is not to be consumed by the darkness. As sunrise peeps over the lake beyond my writing window, I’m grateful that a new day has begun.