I spent a lovely and unseasonably sunny and warm afternoon last week visiting the Buffalo Trace Distillery with my dad. Father-daughter bonding at its finest, I call it.
I’d done the basic tour before—and it was good. But this particular day, we wound up snagging a couple of open spots on the Hard Hat Tour. No actual hard hats required, but lots of stair climbing, a willingness to stick your finger in various stages of fermenting mash, taste still-aging vodka right out of the palm of your hand, and pay attention to the most fabulous tour guide I’ve ever had anywhere—Freddie, a third-generation employee of Buffalo Trace and a connoisseur on not only bourbon, but, it seemed to me, life in general.
The tour ended as such tours do, all of us lined up at a bar with various products to taste. Freddie’s a master at setting the scene, encouraging folks to try new things, and making the whole experience welcoming and down-to-earth. He didn’t even flinch when I spilled a glass of water all over the shiny hardwood floors of the bar area, just grabbed a bar towel and grinned, and assured me it was no crisis. Granted, he’s paid to keep the customers happy, I get this. But Freddie went the extra mile, for sure.
Especially as he brought out a bottle of Eagle Rare (a personal favorite of mine) and said you know, some people like this straight. Some people like it on the rocks. And then he said…sometimes, you even get someone who asks if they can have it mixed with some diet Coke.
Pause. As we all laughed, and acted exactly as he expected us to—as if such a thing was travesty.
Now truthfully, bourbon and coke gags me. I love the flavor, the sipping, the warmth of the whiskey too much to dilute it. And I’m probably more snobby than I ought to be about this. So what Freddie said next, it was uncomfortably convicting.
Ah see, he said, you all cringed, see that? See how you got all offended at the thought of such a pairing? You know what that says? It says you care more about your bourbon than you do the feelings and comfort level of the person who is asking to have it mixed.
You care more about the bourbon than their feelings.
This has stuck with me for the days since that tour. Under my skin. Bouncing around my thoughts. Because bourbon or no, we do this to one another all the time. We choose to care about a person’s preferences and convictions more than we do the actual person (or their feelings).
Am I right?
We care about who a person’s team is more than the person (especially during March in Kentucky…). We care about where a person shops (Um, Wal-Mart? No. Whole Foods.) We care about where a person goes to church (or doesn’t) and let that knowledge color our opinion first thing. We care about skin color. About gender identity. About mistakes and failure and challenges.
And sweet baby Jesus, we care about a person’s vote, their politics, more than we often care about the actual person. Every day, in this country, right now, we let that be what defines a person to us.
We define people by all these things. Even though no person is ever just these things.
Y’all—I’m not excusing the really bad stuff. Not at all. And I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for our convictions to be expressed. And I believe in knowing who you are and what your belief system is and then living that out. And I sure as hell believe in fighting for love and justice and freedom.
But lord have mercy we are hard on each other. So full of judgment and assumption. So prone to “us v. them.” And this is so not what we were made for.
None of us is perfect. And we are all so very different—by such lovely and graceful design. But we’re all riddled with transgressions and fears and deep grief and broken dreams. And we carry with us the baggage of our lives in ways seen and unseen. This alone should give us pause when we assume know everything there is to know about another.
Given all this, who the hell cares how a person enjoys her whiskey? What matters most is who she’s drinking that whiskey with, and the conversation enjoyed with it. And the memories left long after the bottle is empty.
Replace whiskey with coffee and the story’s the same. Grace is expressed and connection made whether it’s the old guys sipping their free small cup at the local McDonald’s or the 40-something moms taking a break at Starbucks before carpool. The beverage does not matter so much as the experience, the willingness to live life together. The desire to see past the ways we’ve painted one another into a box and into another’s heart. We all want to be heard. We all want to belong. We all want to believe that there’s hope. And that this life we’re living…it’s worth it.
Maybe take a chance on someone this week. Maybe look around with eyes more open to another’s life, ears more open to their story, a heart more willing to understand your neighbor…your family member…your coworker…your (fill in the blank).
I’ll even…(gulp)…let you mix your Eagle Rare if you show up at my house. I mean, it’d probably make Freddie proud.