I would love to meet you for tea, but I live in Pennsylvania... (Cup # 22)

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday evening when I received my first email from Mo Neville, a journalist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mo is hoping to lay to rest the idea that conformity is one of life's necessities. She calls her blog 'Project Joy' - a quest to uncover the individuals and ideas "that change how we work, live, and dream". I was thrilled to be considered as such. I mean, I know now the potential that's brewing within this quest to 100 cups - but I guess it still catches me by surprise when a stranger on the opposite side of the world takes the time to email and shows an interest, not only in what I'm doing, but in the things I have to say. I was glad too that Mo didn't take any offence to the fact that, in the excitement of receiving her email and the subsequent desire to provide a timely response, I mistook her for a man.

Good start Greg. Good start.

I scanned her initial email a second time. There was phrase that stood out. It was one I had heard before, and one that I expect to hear again. "I would love to meet you for tea, but I live in Pennsylvania.". 

She said it like she thought it would stop me from coming...

I had been to Philadelphia before, and though my previous visit was brief, I was excited to return - to take the city in, see some sights, and meet Mo for tea of course. Heathrow to Liberty International. Airport rail to Newark Penn Station. NJ transit to Trenton. Switch trains. Amtrak to 30th Street in Philadelphia. Walk to subway station. Subway to Penn's Landing. Walk to Hostel. Check in. Walk to bar down the street. Eat veggie burger. Watch the Vancouver Canucks beat Nashville. Feel happy. Walk back to hostel. Go to sleep. It was a long day...

In the morning, I found my way to the cafe where I would meet Mo with relative ease. I was early, so I took a seat on the couch and pulled out my laptop in an effort to look busy. I wasn't really sure what to expect of our conversation - this would be the first time, with the exception of cup #14 on 4ZZZ radio in Australia, that the person I was meeting wanted to interview me. There would be a photographer, a tape recorder - the whole bit. It's a tricky situation when that is the case. Not that I would know, this being the first cup of tea with a professional photographer present - but I couldn't help but make assumptions about it's trickiness. The purpose of sitting down for a cup of tea is to talk openly about anything at all. I didn't want my conversation with Mo to be one sided. I didn't want it to feel like an interview, even though it was one. I wanted to know about her, just as much as she wanted to know about me. I wanted to hear about her project - about what inspired her. I wanted to learn about the things that excite her in her life as a journalist in Philadelphia. I wanted to walk away that day feeling like I knew who Mo Neville really was. Maybe that's a lot to expect from a conversation between two complete strangers - but then again, maybe it's not...

The conversation came easy. It always does. We talked about our lives - about the journey we found ourselves on, and how exactly we came to be where we are in life. We shared stories of our past and our aspirations for the future. We couldn't help but laugh when the man seated behind us got a little upset at all the flash photography - and couldn't help but laugh a little more when the owner of the cafe (who had given us permission to take photos) told the guy deal with it. I felt a little bad, if I am honest. I wanted to ask him to join us for tea, but I don't think he'd have been all that interested.

I could go on and on about my conversation with Mo - all three and a half hours of it. 
I could tell you how amazing it felt to sit down with a complete stranger, yet find so much to talk about. I could tell you how happy it made me to receive such an incredible outpouring of support from a person I had never met.  I could tell you how touched I was that Mo had brought me some books to read, books that had served her well, and that she thought might also help me on my journey. But, I realize now that what's most important to my story, happened after I left...

Only a few hours after meeting with Mo, I was seated on the 4pm bus from Philadelphia to New York City. Engrossed as I was in one of the books that Mo had brought for me, I wasn't paying too much attention to the journey, which is a bit of a shame. I eagerly turned the page of Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life" when a particular sentence grabbed me, jumped off the page in a way, as if it were trying to tell me something - something more than the words would add up to.

"Tell them that it's okay not to have an answer, but it's not okay to stop looking for one".

I had to pause for a moment, letting the words take hold inside my head.

I know I talk a lot about all the things that this project means to me. About how I hope that my stories might be a source of inspiration to others; a way for me to push myself to be more social and less judgmental; a means to challenge the increasingly isolated nature of society and create more conversation in the world; a way to prove to that anyone can be worthy of your time. And all of these things are true - every one of them. But even still, when I break it all down - when I look at it for what it really is - I suppose that this is all nothing more than a guy looking for some meaning in the world. This is me, smack dab in the middle of my own personal search for whatever it is that I should do with my life. I know it might seem like a strange place to look, having tea with strangers all around the world - but each stranger offers me something new - something I can use on my journey. New ideas. New insights. We help each other to clarify the things that we think we know, but that we feel a little unsure of. With each conversation, I can feel myself getting closer. I may not yet be sure what I am getting closer to, but after having a cup of tea with Mo Neville, I know that it's there.

I put the book down for a moment. Still pondering the words I had just read. Looking up, I could see the New York skyline peering over the horizon - the Empire State Building reaching just a little higher than the rest. I savored the moment - taking time to appreciate where I was, and what I was doing. What began with a simple idea between two friends, a rather curious ad placed online, and a single cup of tea in North London, now had me sitting on a bus bound for New York City. I closed the book, carefully placing it into my bag. I wanted to enjoy the rest of the ride. There was something incredible about that moment - sitting on that bus, thinking about my meeting with Mo, reading those lines in a book I had never heard of before earlier that afternoon.

You know those moments when you know without a doubt that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in the world? I've only had a few of them in my life. They often come without warning - they take you by surprise - but they are moments that you never forget. This was one of those moments.

Our lives tend to be unfold as a series of hits and misses. It's a guessing game at best. We take what information is available to us, make the most informed decisions that we possibly can, and hope for the best. It's a bit like making your way in the dark. Eventually, our eyes adjust and we can see a little bit - but not all that well. We walk with our arms out-stretched, hoping that we won't bump into anything along the way. We know we will though, so we hope too that we don't bump too hard.

When you have one of those moments, the ones I just mentioned, it's almost as if the light comes on in a dark room, if only for a single moment. It's blinding at first - overpowering. But then, all of a sudden, everything around us is so clear. So beautifully clear.

Sitting on that 4pm bus to New York City - I knew, without any doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. That this... all of this... 100 cups. Tea with strangers. Conversation. Human connection. As strange as it might sound - this is exactly what I am meant to be doing with my life. I may have had my doubts before, but now - now I am sure.

Mo made that happen. She gave me the tools that led me to that discovery. So thank you, Mo Neville - thank you for turing on the light.

You should also take a few minutes to visit Mo's website - www.mo-projectjoy.blogspot.com - She has written some very lovely things about me, and about our meeting for tea - and a lot of other great stuff as well. It's hard to put into words how incredibly lucky I feel to have met her. And Mo, if you are reading this... you have that 'light' too. You really do. But more than that - I think we all do. It's somewhere within each and every one of us. It's just a matter of finding the passion that brings it out - the thing that makes it shine...

[Bottom two photos by Joan Cimino Photgraphy: joansphoto@comcast.net]


  1. This is all kinds of wonderful - and so heartening that people still believe in conversation and supposed aimlessness (which I don't really believe in) and that the human connection is a connection worth making. C'est magnifique!

  2. @madeleine
    Thanks for your thoughts Madeleine! I'm glad you like what I'm up to - feel free to come around Tuesdays and Fridays for more stories and others bits and bobs. Hope to hear from you again soon!