The man at the coffee shop knows what I want for breakfast. Today when I walk in he looks at me with a grin and then turns away. When he faces me again, he is holding my watch.

My eyes open wide. There it is. “How did you know it was mine?”

We are both smiling.

“You left it that day you were sitting over there,” he says, already reaching for my zucchini bread. 

That he recognizes me, and knows what I like to eat and what my watch looks like, seems like a small thing. But I have been thinking lately that moments like this, moments of microconnection, make the inevitable tedium and disappointments of life bearable. 

I felt the same kind of connection the other day in class when I asked a group of first-year college students, somewhat disillusioned and often bored, to freewrite for 10 minutes.

As I always say and sometimes do, I told them I would write too. And after eight weeks of starting most classes this way, there was no awkwardness or resistance. It was familiar, and almost immediately, we were all in the same space. The room was writing, silently, collectively, and with full attention to the present moment. If you know today’s college students at all, this qualifies as a minor miracle. 

But then a student walked in late. An older student, my age, she’s the type of person who believes you should always speak when you enter a room. 

“Good morning!” she announced. 

There was a ripple in our shared space—we were separate again—but then the stone sank and we got back to it: the writing, the sense of connection between us. The late student walked to her seat, shifting her bags, pulling her chair out.

“What are we writing about?” she stage whispered to me.

I lifted my head, the connection broken. “Actually, I think we’re done,” I sighed, feeling my wrist for the watch that wasn’t there.