Cup 51

Person: Elaine Rosenblatt 

Drink: Grande Americano

Date: October 19, 2011

Location: Starbucks in Skokie, IL

I’m going to be upfront with you guys, Cup 51 was hard to write.

There are a lot of explanations, or rather excuses, for why but I think the most relevant one is that I don’t want this project to end because I don’t know what comes next. The irony is that this post is about learning to let go and moving on to something better.

I met with Elaine Rosenblatt on a windy and gloomy Wednesday. I had taken the train to the outskirts of the city and arrived at the Starbucks first. When Elaine walked in I recognized her immediately. She looked just like her son Brett, the stranger that invited me to coffee three years ago, became one of my best friends, and showed me the power of reaching out to people you don’t know. Elaine lives outside of Chicago and when I was invited to attend a fundraiser I decided to reach out to her. I thought it was fitting that she could help me end a project that her son helped me start. Plus I’d heard enough about her from Brett that I was certain she could give me good advice.

I caught Elaine’s attention and introduced myself before we stood in line to get coffee. Because of her warm and nurturing spirit and the fact that we had a lot in common, we were already deep in conversation by the time we sat down at a small table by the window. 

I had a feeling the conversation was going to go in all different directions so I asked my most important question first—how did she end up where she is today. I really didn’t know anything about Elaine other than that she was a psychotherapist and has three sons. A mutual friend warned me that she’d likely be more interested in hearing my story than sharing hers so I was thankful when she launched into a narrative of her life. 

It started out as a very simple story. For as long as she could remember, the only thing Elaine wanted to be when she grew up was a mom. She didn’t consider college or a career.  She fell in love, got married and had a son in her early twenties. She had achieved her goal. 

Of course that’s not where the story ends. It’s really where it begins. 

Elaine’s marriage began to crumble, and before she knew it she found herself as a single mom with a child to support. Desperate for work, she took the first job she could find – working at a women’s care clinic where she unexpectedly discovered a love for advocacy work.

As her involvement in her job increased, she gained national attention for her work, becoming a sought-after voice for women’s sexual rights, often doing radio interviews and speeches on the topic. Although she didn’t follow the traditional educational route, she was passionate and constantly worked to learn more about her field and advance.

In the process of building her career, she remarried and had two more kids (the youngest was Brett). She said that even with all of her career success, raising her three boys was her life’s greatest joy. Being a mom was a perfect fit for her nurturing spirit. It also helped her realize she had a natural ability to counsel others and help them through their problems. While engaged in advocacy work she started taking classes to become a certified divorce mediator, and then later became a psychotherapist. 

Now calling Elaine a psychotherapist doesn’t capture her essence. Elaine is a strong, independent, complex and compassionate woman. Having coffee with her reminded me so much of that initial conversation I had with Brett—the conversation just clicked.

When I asked her how people get through a difficult divorce, her response was straightforward: “you just do.” Her son was depending on her; she had no choice but to find a way to get through the hardship.

That’s how our conversation took a deep dive into the nature of pain and hardships—two things that are inevitable in life. While that may seem like a somber topic, the conversation was very encouraging.

You see, it wasn’t until her strength was tested that she realized how strong she could be. It wasn’t until she was forced to find work that she realized she could create an incredible career for herself. It was because she could navigate through her own pain that she discovered she could help others navigate through theirs. In short, the unhappiness led her to a place of incredible happiness. 

But it didn’t happen overnight. 

When she married her first husband she expected to stay married to him forever and built her hopes and dreams around that scenario. It’s something we all do. We become attached to visions of the future—expected outcomes we have little control over—until the illusion feels like reality.  

Then something happens—the relationship falls apart, the job wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, the economy takes a left turn—and the illusion, along with the feeling of security, is shattered. 

It’s a story that’s happened to everyone at some point and a story Elaine hears frequently at work. The advice she gives really comes down to three-steps: grieve, believe, and wait out the discomfort (my words not hers).

When a major life change happens it’s alright (and normal!) to be upset. Trying to cover up or numb the pain doesn’t make it go away any faster. The best course of action is to embrace it and give yourself time to grieve. 

But in the process of grieving you shouldn’t lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.  Faith, religion, optimism—call it what you want it—it’s hope for the future and if you can’t find it in yourself, find someone who can help you find it. Like Brett said last week when I called him on a particularly bad day: “history repeats itself—if you survived tough times in the past, you’ve proven you can survive tough times in the future.”

Then, once you’ve found the hope, accept that there’s going to be a period of discomfort. Elaine went back to the tunnel metaphor. You know there’s a light at the end but it’s going to be dark and uncertain for awhile. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but if you keep pushing forward, you’ll make it to the end and be strong as a result. 

While Elaine’s advice was centered on hardship, it is actually a solution for any change. It’s a process for saying goodbye to what was and looking forward to what will be. 

52 Cups has been a big part of my life for the last year. Now I have to prepare for a post 52 Cups life. Leaving the security of this project for the unknown of the next project is a little uncomfortable. Coffee with Elaine reminded me that 52 Cups has prepared me for what’s next. While closing this chapter of my life is difficult, I can embrace the change and use the experience to make the next chapter better than the last. 

I have to hold onto that mentality through both the good and the bad. Elaine’s story is proof that keeping that mentality—through both the good and the bad—helps you navigate this crazy and unpredictable life. 

And find happiness in the process. 

Thanks, Elaine.