Every family has its truisms, its set of unquestioned stock phrases that represent the full weight of universal truth and, at the same time, mean nothing. One of ours is: “You can make strong coffee weaker, but you can’t make weak coffee stronger.”
This is important, as my mother will tell you as a reminder any time you offer to make the morning pot. There’s nothing worse than weak coffee (apparently). Sure, there is poverty and starvation and war and drought. Granted. But if you have control over the bite of your coffee, why on earth would you make a toothless cup?
When we dropped my brother off at Hope College in Anne Arbor, Michigan for his freshman year, it was the first any of us had been to the Midwest. I don’t know how it is these days, but the basic cup of jo at a Michigan diner in 1982 was not the same beverage you’d get in upstate New York. I was not a big coffee drinker at the time, but my mom assured me of this fact, with a certain amount of disgust and grumbling, at which point came the now famous “you can make strong coffee weaker” statement.
She was right, of course.
Perhaps the broader application is too obvious, but maybe still worth spelling out: The stronger, quicker, brighter person can always hold back in moments and situations that don’t require full strength but rather a gentler touch. But if you are weak, no amount of adding sugar or cream is going to get you up to the task. A fast runner can pace herself, slow down to lead others from a not too distant lead. But if you haven’t trained and put in the time, you will be out of shape and in no condition to move ahead or lead.
I have struggled to get on a regular exercise routine. That combined with chronic lower back issues has at times led to a downward spiral of physical weakness. I cannot make myself stronger from this pot, from the current mix of bad habit and weak core.
What happens in our household when the coffee is too weak? (This does happen on occasion.) We pour out the whole pot and start over. This may sound wasteful, but it is an absolute fact that you can make strong coffee weaker but you can’t make weak coffee stronger.
But how does one pour out a whole set of habits and start over? You have to let go of your investment in the weak pot. There’s always some lingering idea in the back of that stubborn brain that wants to justify weakness, to call laziness “efficiency,” to put some value on how the time has been spent. Okay, fine. Call it “renewal” or “transitional self-awareness time.” Then call it done. Recognize that it was a cup for yesterday but not for today. Recognize it for what it was – a weak pot – and pour it down the drain. Make a new pot.
And this time, don’t skimp on the beans.