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Coffee, and Connections: Reviewing My Favorite Sister’s Book

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Max Stearns

I just finished reading Coffee Connections: Finding Common Ground Through My Daily Brew, a self-published memoir by my sister, Wendy Bornstein. You can purchase it on Amazon, and I hope you will.

Wendy is one of my very favorite people in the world. It would be unfair not to say this up front because I cannot hide some bias in writing this. Even so, there’s a reason for that, and it’s not just because she’s my sister. It’s because she’s Wendy. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve grown to realize how many sibling relationships are fraught, or worse. I was blessed. I have only one sibling, Wendy, and wouldn’t trade her for more.

What makes Wendy Wendy is her a never-ending embrace of life and her absolute commitment to those she loves—her family, friends, and Havanese Delilah—or simply cares deeply about, such as her clients. She would do anything for those, like me, who are so fortunate to be in her orbit. Her love and commitment are boundless, and that’s what the book is about.

I know what you’re thinking—the book is about Wendy’s love of coffee. And if you take my advice and read it, you might even say it’s about her love of Starbucks. On that last one, Wendy and I disagree a bit. Starbucks is neither my favorite coffee, nor favorite café. But as I read and reflect on Wendy’s book, I’m reminded of something I reflected on when giving my father’s eulogy. And yes, in a good way.

Our Dad was an avid collector. One might say an OCD collector—and to that extent, although Wendy and I don’t quite match his intensity, neither apple falls entirely beyond the early morning's outer most shading. Wendy and I, and our Dad, Herbert Stearns, may he rest in peace, manifest certain traits to differing degrees and in differing ways. In the eulogy, I explained that for my Dad, collecting was his way to connect with others. This was sometimes a challenge. For Wendy it’s not. As I read her book, it’s obvious that for Wendy the props are fewer, and, inversely, the connections come more naturally. Whether at Starbucks or on Zoom, coffee for Wendy becomes the perfect simple backdrop, much less cumbersome than tens of thousands of historical documents and artifacts, as she connects broadly with her corner of the world.

I once recommended a book to Wendy by an MIT philosopher, Kieran Setiya, called Midlife: A Philosophical Guide. I relied on the book in this closing lecture to my constitutional law class a few years back as I tried to encourage my students, even as most were decades before mid-life and I was peaking back from the other side, to distinguish telic and atelic pursuits. Wendy embraced this concept. She regards her passion for coffee as atelic—part of a never-ending pursuit of connections with other people. She explains that our mother, Audrey Stearns, may she too rest in peace, observed that for my brother-in-law, coffee is telic, a healthy-ish energy boost—better diluted with flavor—as he contemplates the next task.

If Wendy conveys a singular lesson it’s this: slow down and sip, her equivalent to stop and smell the roses. At least whenever you can.

Wendy is a realtor, a profession that sometimes brings to mind ruthless professionals whose sole goal is turnover, revenue, sales at all costs. I’m reminded of a scene from American Beauty in which Annette Benning repeats like a mantra “I will sell this house today,” as she ensures visual perfection.

Wendy’s the type of realtor more dedicated to the client than the commission. At least before the pandemic, she routinely met her prospective clients—you guessed it—at Starbucks. She told me as we prepared our own house (with another terrific realtor) for the market, that she sometimes bakes cookies to serve. Hardly the ruthless realtor. I suspect that for Wendy realty is like coffee—more about making clients happier than herself wealthier.

Harvard philosopher, Michael Sandel, also published a terrific book, this one titled The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good. It focuses on the widening cultural chasm separating elites, highly correlated to those who have managed to complete a four-year college degree, and those for whom the daunting cost—not just tuition, but four dedicated years—is a fantasy. Sandel’s right, of course, but I’ve come to appreciate more and more what the traditional four-year degree represents. It’s certainly not valued—at least most of the time—for anything in particular that students learn. Rather, it signals the capacity to navigate something highly complex and hugely demanding—courses, schedules, homework, roommates, friendships, relationships, bills, loans, summer positions, career searches, etc.—in those formative, hormonal, years of 18 to 22.

Writing a book is a lot like that. It’s hard work and constant juggling. There are countless tasks that have to be navigated in parallel, while never losing focus and always keeping your eye on the prize. It's much like helping someone sell or buy a house. I know this personally having written a few books, and yes, having bought and sold some homes. I’m also writing a book now. Mine is about how to save our constitutional democracy, which is devastated, wreaking havoc on our culture, destroying our most fundamental institutions, splitting up families, and even destroying longstanding friendships.

Wendy’s book is about coffee, and connections, more so than coffee connections. And come to think of it, it’s also about saving our democracy. Building, perhaps restoring, relationships one cup at a time.

I hope you’ll buy it, read it, and encourage others to do so. But if you don’t, at least slow down and sip. We owe Wendy that.

I welcome your comments.

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